ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — The fifth time was the charm, and charmed is exactly what this season might be for St. Norbert.
Behind a goal from each of the four forward lines and a defenseman, the Green Knights are headed to the NCAA Division III Frozen Four for the first time. After four national quarterfinal failures in four tries, they discarded whatever NCAA curse has plagued them with a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin-River Falls on Saturday night at the Cornerstone Community Ice Center.
“It’s a monumental step for us,” said St. Norbert’s Tim Coghlin, relieved of the burden of being the coach of arguably the best team in Division III never to have advanced to the Frozen Four. “I think in the eyes of the players downstairs, it’s just a step. I think this team has stayed focused every single weekend of play, no matter who we played and whatever the circumstances.”
St. Norbert (27-1-2) will play Norwich in a national semifinal on Friday.
To get there, the top-ranked Green Knights used balanced production — one of the hallmarks of the bump-free season they’ve had.
They won all 18 of their home games this season — the first time that’s happened in team history — and improved college hockey’s best unbeaten streak to 19 games.
Michael Buchan (fourth line), Connor Hughes (first line), Kelly Wosnack (second line) and Terry Wilson (third line) scored to give St. Norbert a 4-1 lead after two periods. Senior defenseman Brant Kersey sealed things, scoring into an empty net with 16.5 seconds left.
“It’s awesome. It’s nice to finally get here,” said SNC goaltender Chancy Colquhoun, who made 16 saves. “SNC has deserved this for so long. We’re just excited to get the chance, and we’re not done yet.”
Hughes’ second-period goal put the Green Knights ahead for good. He swiped the puck from the Falcons at the blue line and had a breakaway when UWRF defenseman Adam Kragthorpe fell down. Hughes coolly put a wrist shot under Jacque Vezina’s right arm for a 2-1 lead at 5 minutes, 43 seconds.
River Falls’ Aaron Degerness had tied the game at 1 on the power play just 20 seconds into the period.
“It was pretty big,” Hughes said. “We were playing well up to that point and they got a power-play goal right at the start of the second period. But we felt it was a long game. That goal, along with a lot of other plays, helped out.”
River Falls (23-7-1) scored both of its goals on the power play, but the Falcons played themselves out of more time with the man advantages. UWRF penalties ended three of the Falcons’ first five power plays.
“That was a killer,” River Falls coach Steve Freeman said. “I thought we used our sticks way too much tonight … and therefore we took, what, three or four tripping penalties.”
Colquhoun made the most important of his 16 saves to preserve the Green Knights’ 3-1 lead in the second period. He stopped Tony Sikich on a breakaway just after Wosnack put SNC ahead by two.
Sikich got a looping pass from the neutral zone and broke in free on the right side. He worked his way around Colquhoun on the left side of the net, but the goaltender twisted around to block the shot.
“He had the better of me, but I just got lucky,” Colquhoun said. “I got my arm back around there. It’s an old, textbook Dominik Hasek save, I guess.”
Wilson scored just under four minutes later, and St. Norbert had a three-goal lead after two periods. It’s 167-0-3 in its last 170 games when leading after two periods.
Colquhoun was cool in goal all game, as has been his calling card for most of this season. In years past, he was known to take chances in goal, but he’s played it safe in his junior season.
It’s paid off to the tune of a 16-0-2 record.
“He makes 16 saves on the night, but I have to tell you, it felt like he made 35,” Coghlin said. “He really made some big, quality saves. I was talking to him after the game, and he just said, ‘I told you I’d get you there.’ Like, you should have played me two years ago.”
Coghlin added: “He’s a confident kid. He’s got a certain air about him right now. He’s playing very, very well. And more importantly, this team believes in Chancy Colquhoun.”