Middlebury, Vt. — St. Thomas returns to the national title game for the first time since 2000 with a 4-1 win over Trinity in the first semifinal of this year’s Division III Frozen Four. The Bantams opened a 3-0 lead after two periods and cruised to the win.
“Every mistake we made, they capitalized,” said Trinity goaltender Doug Kisielius, who made 22 saves.
John Bottoms’ power play goal at 9:38 staked St. Thomas to a 1-0 lead. His shot from the center point, through a crowd, whistled just inside the near post.
“It came though a screen,” said Kisielius. “I only saw it halfway (to the net).”
St. Thomas increased its lead to 2-0 at 11:06 of the second, Tommie freshman Ryan Hoehn won the faceoff in the Trinity zone back to Garrett Gruenke. Gruenke’s shot from the near point was deflected by Hoehn, who was cruising through the crease. The puck floated over Kisielius’ shoulder into the top corner of the net.
“It was a harmless shot that that was headed into my glove,” said Kisielius. “And then the guy tips it out of midair.”
Just two minutes and 18 seconds later, St. Thomas cashed in on another deflection, Colin Greenlees’ shot from the mid-boards was redirected by junior Brady Fougner inside the far post to make it 3-0.
The Bantams got on the board at 4:37 of the third period when a St. Thomas turnover was collected by Thomas Wenstrom, who skated out from behind the net and let a wrist shot go. Tommie goaltender Zach Sikich made the initial save, but left a rebound in the slot for junior Cameron Finch, who put the puck past Sikich to make it 3-1.
Trinity couldn’t muster a decent scoring opportunity after that. The only chance for either squad was a breakaway by St. Thomas’ Brandon Wilcox with about four minutes to play. Wilcox was able to get Kisielius to commit, but his backhand sailed wide.
Trinity pulled Kisielius with two minutes to play and Tommie freshman forward Matt Kaiser scored into the empty net at 18:40.
Trinity outshot St. Thomas 17-8 in the third period and 32-26 for the game, but many others were stopped before they got to Sikich.
“They were great at blocking shots,” said Trinity coach John Dunham. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen as many shots blocked as we had tonight.”
“They had excellent defense,” said Trinity captain Joe Ori. “They seemed to block every shot we took from the point. They took us out of our game.”
“They had more shots, but I thought we had more Grade-A chances,” said Fougner.
“I saw plays develop pretty well,” said Sikich. “That’s a credit to our defenseman and our forwards. They were blocking shots all night, especially on the [penalty kill]. Everything I saw was from outside.”
St. Thomas senior forward Dustin Lick is in the lineup for the first time since Jan. 21 when he broke his leg in a game against Bethel College. Lick was an All-American in 2004, tallying 41 points. Lick had 23 points through 13 games this season before he was injured.
“I can’t tell you what it means to have him back,” said Fougner. “He’s the best forward in our league,” added St. Thomas coach Terry Skrypek.
St. Thomas will play either Middlebury or New England College for the national title tomorrow.
“We’re looking forward to playing either one of the two teams,” said Skrypek. “It doesn’t matter to us.”
St. Thomas had made the national title game one other time. In 2000 the Tommies lost to Norwich, 2-1. Skrypek and company are eager for another chance.
“We don’t have the superstars we had on that team, but we have more balance,” Skrypek said. “And our goaltending is better. I think the reason we’re playing so well right now is that our goaltender is really coming on. He’s played really well down the stretch.”