NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Was there ever a doubt over who would score the game winner? After an epic weekend where the Middlebury Panthers won both the Division III semifinals and finals in overtime, it was their best player — the nation’s best player — who scored the goal that gave Middlebury a 1-0 win for the national title, its first since 1999 and sixth overall.
“It just happens in games like this,” said Kevin Cooper. “A bounce can decide it and the puck just bounced to me. The puck has been bouncing that way for me all season.”
At 2:58 of overtime, Mike Kennedy’s shot was deflected on the way to net, and came right to Cooper at the far post. The senior from Mississauga, Ontario was all alone and buried the puck.
“It got tipped on the way,” said St. Norbert goaltender Chancy Colquhoun, who was spectacular in defeat, making 32 saves. “I had already committed (to the initial shot) and it went back door, and then it was in the net.”
“I just threw it at the net, and it popped right to ‘Coop’,” said Kennedy. “I knew the game was over.”
It was a marathon weekend for the Panthers, who needed double overtime to vanquish defending national champion Norwich, and then almost 63 minutes to finally score against St. Norbert, the No. 1 team in the final USCHO Division III poll.
“It didn’t come easy tonight, and it didn’t come without a whole lot of work last night,” said Middlebury head coach Bill Beaney.
Both teams worked hard to forge a 0-0 tie in regulation. Colquhoun and Middlebury netminder Marc Scheuer each preserved the tie numerous times, thwarting numerous scoring chances.
Middlebury had four power plays in the game to St. Norbert’s two, but neither team was able to capitalize on numerous chances with the man advantage, or even strength for that matter.
“We had some good looks, but unfortunately it came down to one play,” said St. Norbert captain Mike Buchan. “I feel devastated. We had winning chances. I take pride in burying chances like those, but I didn’t.”
Scheuer, who assumed starting duties in net midway through the season, stopped all 29 shots he faced, for a total of 73 saves on 75 shots on the weekend.
“He was the MVP of the tournament,” said Middlebury captain John Dawson.
When asked to describe what this, his sixth title meant to him, Beaney gave a one-word answer.
“Team,” he said.
“This is a group of people that made a decision … to work together to accomplish this.”
“We lost to Colby at home (on January 17),” recalled Dawson. “Our fans were kind of down that we had lost at home — we had lost two of four at home. We got together (that) Saturday night and made the commitment to each other right there to have 20 guys that wanted to win.”
“Sometimes it takes four years to learn how to win a national championship,” said Cooper. “We make the decision to put together a team to win this thing; to make the commitment to each other.”
“It’s prophetic that they played so much overtime this weekend,” said Beaney. “They just enjoyed playing together so much, they wanted it to last a little longer.”
In the 2004 NCAA Division III Tournament, Middlebury won its 23rd, 24th and 25th NCAA games, improving the school’s record to 25-5-2, tops in championships, total wins and winning percentage.
“Everybody measures themselves against Middlebury,” said St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin. “They have the record to back it up.”
And another title.