MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Outside the Wisconsin-Superior dressing room, on the wall leading to the ice, is a sign inscribed with the Yellowjacket logo and the initials “HTD”. Each time this weekend that the UWS players were about to enter the ice, each paused and touched the sign in a ritual that you could tell went back much farther than this 2002 Division III Frozen Four.
When asked about the sign after Superior’s 5-0 win over Plattsburgh in the semifinals on Friday, UWS head coach Dan Stauber declined to answer.
“Maybe tomorrow,” was all that he said.
Tonight, he grudgingly talked about it after his team defeated Norwich 3-2 in overtime to win their first ever national title.
“It’s something that goes way back to the alumni and the first final four,” said Stauber. “It’s pretty special to us. It’s what Jacket Hockey is all about.”
Hard work. Teamwork. Determination.
Those factors were evident as Superior, trailing by a goal with 1:26 to play, tied the game on junior center Colin Kendall’s shot that deflected in off a Norwich defenseman’s stick, and then won it, again with a goal from Kendall, just 23 seconds into overtime.
It was the third time in four NCAA appearances dating back to 1997 that Norwich and Superior had gone into overtime against one another. Each had spoiled home ice for the other in recent semifinals, but this was the first time the two teams had met in the championship game.
It was Wis.-Superior’s ninth trip to the Division III Frozen Four. The Jackets had come up empty in each trip, with this year’s senior class owning a second, third and fourth place trophy going into this weekend.
“This completes the set,” said goaltender Nate Ziemski, who made 26 saves. “This is a huge monkey off our backs.”
Things started well for the Cadets who came out strong in front of a large enough Norwich contingent to make Middlebury’s Kenyon Arena look like Kreitzberg West.
“I thought we followed our gameplan,” said Norwich head coach Mike McShane. “Our kids played hard the entire game, the entire weekend.”
“They took it to us,” said Stauber.
The Norwich pressure paid off midway through the first period. Superior forward Reed Larson lost his stick and then employed a soccer-style tackle on Norwich’s Paul Mattucci, resulting in an interference penalty.
One minute and thirty-eight seconds into the power play, Norwich freshman Kurtis Mclean came down the right wing and blew a rocket past Ziemski from just inside the blue line. The goal ended a mini-slump for Mclean, who led the nation in goals for a good part of the season, but hadn’t scored in his past six games.
UWS responded just 47 seconds later when Randy Currie put in a rebound off a shot by Kris Wilson. The puck game to Currie, who was all alone at the far post. The senior put the puck behind Norwich goaltender Kevin Schieve to even the score.
The score remained tied until 5:31 of the second period, when Norwich winger Matt Schmidt was able to pick up a loose puck along the near boards and skate out in front of Ziemski, beating him glove-side.
Things stayed that way for the rest of the second period and well into the third, as Norwich was able to limit Superior’s scoring chances. The best chances for both teams were back-to-back breakaways by Superior’s Josh Liebenow and Norwich’s Phil Aucoin early in the third period. Liebenow’s shot went wide of the near post, while Aucoin was stoned by Ziemski.
With time running out and Norwich effectively Superior down, the Yellowjackets got the break that had eluded them in their past trips to the Frozen Four.
With 1:26 to play in regulation, Colin Kendall’s shot from the left wing glanced off Norwich defenseman’s Jon Grabie’s stick and fluttered over Schieve’s shoulder to tie the game.
“I just wanted to put it on net,” said Kendall. “I honestly didn’t think it was going to go in.”
“I thought I had the angle on it,” said Schieve. “But one of our D-men got his stick on it.
“Things just didn’t go our way.”
“Hockey is a game of bounces, and we didn’t get them,” added Cadet senior captain Keith Maurice. “They did.”
“We had some great chances at the end (of the third) but didn’t bury them,” said McShane. “It was a lucky goal.”
In just the second overtime game championship game in Division III history, Kendall ended things quickly.
Just 23 seconds into the extra period, Kendall took a rebound off a shot by Dale Lupul and put it over the sprawled Schieve to end years of UWS frustration.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Kendall.
“We knew if we could get to this game, we would have the confidence to win it,” said Ziemski. “To be the (Wisconsin-Superior) team that won it, it’s awesome.”
“Our team believed from the play-in game to now that we could do it,” said Stauber.
With hard work, teamwork, and determination.