NORTHFIELD, Vt. — St. Norbert has finally arrived. After years of frustration, the Green Knights are finally going to be playing for the national championship thanks to a 4-1 victory over Plattsburgh in the first semifinal game of the 2004 NCAA Division III Men’s hockey championship.
“We’re obviously pleased to get to the championship game,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said.
At first, despite some excellent scoring chances, it seemed like it would be another bad luck year for the Green Knights.
“We are a team that is slow starting and getting out of the blocks,” Coghlin said. “I thought that was indicative of what we saw in the first period.”
Indeed, when the period ended, the Cardinals were the ones who had the lead, 1-0.
Justin Rafferty scored the lone goal when the puck bounced off St. Norbert goaltender Chancy Colquhoun and barely tricked over the goal line, despite a frantic dive by Colquhoun to sweep the puck away.
The Green Knights must have felt frustrated after numerous opportunities. On the one and only power play of the period, Michael Buchan found himself wide open in the slot area, but shot wide on a one-timer attempt.
A few minutes later, Kelly Wosnack, with his back to the goal, fired a turnaround shot, forcing Plattsburgh netminder Craig Neilson to make a point blank save.
Late in the period, St. Norbert’s Andy Cote skated across the front of the net, but couldn’t get a shot off. This was followed by a James Switzer shot from the blueline that got deflected inches wide.
St. Norbert led the shots for the opening period 12-8, but trailed where it counted.
“We had a couple of good looks in the first period but we didn’t bury the puck,” Coghlin said. “The kid made some nice saves. Next thing you know, we’re down a goal. I’m pleased we kept our composure.”
Early in the second period, Plattsburgh nearly took a two goal lead on a power play. Ben Kemp deflected a pass towards the net that appeared to be going in. Chancy Colquhoun barely got a piece of it, but it was enough to steer it wide.
The Green Knights then resumed applying the pressure. A Cote slapshot from the faceoff circle was stopped by Neilson. Later, with Neilson down, Tyler Gow, alone with the puck, couldn’t finish, putting it wide of the post.
The Cardinals once again had a chance to take the elusive 2-0 lead. Ryan Busby had a clean breakaway, put some moves on Colquhoun, but the goalie didn’t budge. After the save, Paul Kelly came screaming in, but was unable to put the puck past a sprawled Colquhoun.
Kelly had a good excuse. “He was playing with a broken stick and got away with it,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery explained. “He wasn’t able to get some meat off the shot. I let him have it when he came to the bench. He shows me the stick. Knowing me I should have said, “Why didn’t you use the good half and put it in?’”
As for the initial breakaway shot, Colquhoun explains, “The guy had the puck on edge.”
Those stops by Colquhoun were key moments for the Green Knights. “We have not over the course of time asked our goaltenders to win a lot of games for us,” Coghlin said. “But as of late we’ve needed some key saves at incredibly big times and Chancy has responded. He has played very well down the stretch.”
St. Norbert finally tied it up, also on a play where the puck slowly trickled in. With Neilson down and a player fallen on top of him, Jason Deitsch’s shot barely crossed the goal line, finally settling in the back of the net.
With that equalizer, St. Norbert appeared to gain an extra spring to the their step. It paid off on the power play with some nice one time passesDeitsch passed to Ryan Tew who then fed Connor Hughes at the faceoff circle. Hughes quickly wristed a shot into the far upper corner of the net.
After two “garbage” goals, the game got it’s first “classic” goal.
St. Norbert is virtually unbeatable when entering the third period with a lead. However, Plattsburgh got to this stage with three consecutive overtime victories, so this game was far from over.
At 6:23 of the final period, St. Norbert got the key score, on once again another “garbage” goal. Jon Schultz, taking the puck from behind the net, tried to stuff it between the post and Neilson’s leg. It appeared Neilson had it covered, but somehow the puck squeezed through to give St. Norbert a 3-1 lead.
“I thought I had it covered,” Neilson said. “It was a fortunate bounce that enabled him to maintain possession of the puck after the initial shot.”
“That third goal really hurt us,” Emery acknowledged. “We’ve been a pretty good third period team this year. When they got the third goal, it took the wind out of our sails.”
Both teams continued to play at a high level of intensity. Midway through the third period, Plattsburgh applied intense pressure on St. Norbert’s net, but some hard checking by the Green Knights kept the Cardinals from scoring.
Plattsburgh pulled Neilson with about a minute to play, but a strong St. Norbert forecheck enabled Spencer Carbery to intercept a pass in the neutral zone and fire it into the open cage.
Plattsburgh ends their season at 23-5-3. Though many felt the Cardinals weren’t even supposed to be here, Emery doesn’t want to hear any of that.
“We got here. We didn’t get the job done,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys. We had a very successful season. All the games we lost except for one were the teams we’re playing this weekend. Once you won a national championship, everything else is not acceptable. We can be happy but not satisfied.”
St. Norbert, now at 27-2-2 and the number one seed in the tournament playing on the road, gets to play for the national championship.
“We’ve got to start quicker.” Coghlin said. “This team does have the ability to come out and put the hurt to a team in the first period. We need a first period like that tomorrow.”
St. Norbert fans have been waiting a long time for any period in the season’s final game.