DE PERE, Wis. — Quite simply, the St. Thomas men’s hockey team is on a roll.
The visiting Tommies won their second road game in four days in the NCAA Division III Tournament and stunned No. 1-ranked St. Norbert to claim a hard-fought 3-2 win in a national quarterfinal contest at the Cornerstone Community Center. The loss was St. Norbert’s first in 51 outings at the CCC, with the Green Knights going 48-0-2 there since a 4-2 loss to UW-Superior in a NCAA Tournament contest on March 10, 2002.
“St. Norbert has a proud program and this is a huge event for us and our league,” St. Thomas coach Terry Skrypek said. “No one expected us to be in the position where we are now.”
St. Thomas blitzed out to a 3-0 lead in the first 27 minutes of action and then held on for the win to advance to its second Frozen Four. The Tommies, now 19-5-5 on the year, will face Trinity in a national semifinal Friday at Middlebury, at 3:30 p.m. ET. St. Norbert, the West Region’s lone Frozen Four representative the last two years, had a 26-game unbeaten streak snapped and had its season come to an end at 24-3-3.
“We obviously picked the wrong game to play 45 minutes; we didn’t play a complete game,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “But we have no excuses. This is the hardest loss we’ve had in 12 years here, no question in my mind.
“We got beat. St. Thomas played an outstanding game and beat us from the get-go.”
The Tommies picked up a 1-0 lead after one period when Brandon Wilcox put a trickler past St. Norbert goaltender Kyle Jones off a redirection at 14:54 of the first. St. Thomas then put together an offensive flurry that would prove to be insurmountable.
Ryan Hoehn scored on a breakout at 4:31 of the second, and Kevin Rollwagen added a marker at 7:17. Rollwagen’s goal came off a St. Norbert turnover deep in the Green Knights’ defensive zone.
“It was important for us to get the jump right away,” Skrypek said. “To go up 3-0 was huge.”
St. Norbert climbed back into the game with a slightly controversial goal late in the second period. Jason Deitsch’s slapshot from the left face-off circle beat St. Thomas goaltender Zach Sikich, but went through the net and play continued briefly. After a referee’s conference, the goal was counted at 16:58 of the period, and St. Thomas conceded in the post-game press conference the goal was a good goal.
Deitsch sent the capacity crowd of 2,088 into a frenzy with a floater past Sikich just 33 seconds into the third period, but St. Norbert would not score again.
St. Norbert played the last 1:16 with an empty net. A decent scoring chance in front of the St. Thomas net with 4 seconds left by defenseman Ryan Tew was denied and the Tommies finished off the upset.
“We played a solid 45 minutes, but not much more. And in the national tournament with the eight elite teams in the country, you’ll get beat if you play a 45-minute schedule,” Coghlin said. “This was a tougher loss … this was a tough loss.”
Sikich ended up making 40 saves for St. Thomas as the Green Knights held a commanding 42-24 shots-on-goal advantage. St. Norbert outshot the Tommies 20-5 in the third period but Sikich turned away 19, and he was helped throughout the game with St. Thomas forwards deflecting several shots throughout the game.
“Zach made some great saves for us and you have to have it in big games,” Skrypek said. “He’s been playing great down the stretch. He struggled midway through the year but he’s really honed his game.”
The defeat for St. Norbert ended a great four-year career for All-Americans Deitsch and Tew, who posted a 101-13-10 record during their career. Deitsch ends as St. Norbert’s all-time leading scorer with 64 goals and 120 assists for 184 points. Tew ends with 21 goals and 74 assists for 95 points.
“This was also a tough loss because of the loss of Jason Deitsch and Ryan Tew,” Coghlin said. “They are two of the premier players to ever wear a St. Norbert jersey. They’ve been so steady for so long.”