DE PERE, Wis. — Behind a stifling defense and goals from four different players, St. Norbert pulled away to defeat Bethel 4-1 in Saturday’s NCAA quarterfinal contest at the Cornerstone Community Center.
The win lands the Green Knights in the Frozen Four for the fourth time in five seasons, where they will face Oswego State.
St. Norbert controlled the tempo in the early going, hitting a post and firing eight shots on Bethel goaltender Aaron Damjanovich in the opening five minutes, but were unable to find the back of the net.
The Royals got some of their best chances of the period a bit later on, following a St. Norbert penalty for too many men at 11:36, but St. Norbert goaltender Kyle Jones turned away numerous high-quality chances and the Green Knights escaped unscathed.
In all, the Green Knights killed three penalties in the opening period, in large part due to the efforts of Jones, who garnered a healthy portion of his 17 saves in that span.
“We don’t ask him to make 45 saves per game, but he will make five big saves when we need him to, and we got some huge saves from Kyle early in the game,” said Green Knight head coach Tim Coghlin
“Sometimes the offense isn’t going and you need the defense to bail you out, sometimes the defense isn’t doing it either and that’s when you need the goalie to bail you out. That’s what he did.”
St. Norbert outshot Bethel 14-7 in the opening period, but the two were equal in terms of good scoring opportunities, and the scoreless frame was somewhat of a win as far as Bethel head coach Peter Aus was concerned.
“We wanted to be in that situation,” he said. “To come out of the first period at 0-0, or even if we had been down 1-0, really wasn’t a bad spot to be in.”
The second period began much as the first did, and St. Norbert finally got on the board at the 3:14 mark. Damjanovich made a stellar save on the original three-on-one rush, but the Green Knights held the zone and a rebound hopped to forward Ryan Petersen who finally beat Damjanovich and put St. Norbert out front.
As opposed to the opening stanza, Bethel saw few opportunities in the second, but that changed a little over halfway through the period as back-to-back Green Knight penalties gave the Royals a five-on-three advantage for 1:24.
The Royals took advantage of the opportunity as forward Nick Miller one-timed a shot from out high, and forward Matt Hall got a piece of it, deflecting it off the inside of the post and in to tie the game at 1.
“That was just a great goal,” said Coghlin.
The 1-1 stalemate would not last for long, however, as a Bethel interference penalty at 14:28 set the Green Knights up for what turned out to be the game winner.
On the ensuing power play, Green Knight forward Jeff Hazelwood managed to hold the blueline and threw a low shot back in through traffic. The shot found forward Steven Sleep’s stick, and deflected past Damjanovich to put St. Norbert up 2-1 at the 16:19 mark.
The Green Knights extended the lead to 3-1 a little over a minute later. After digging the puck out of the corner, Tyler Allen found Troy Boisjoli all alone in front of the Royals’ net, and he converted.
“The last five minutes of the second period killed us,” said Aus. “We missed three chances to get the puck out of the zone, then they come back and score.”
Green Knight forward Marc Belanger capped off the scoring with a beautiful three-on-one goal late in the third period, but both coaches pointed to the second period as the turning point.
“In the second period I thought we played much better,” said Coghlin. “After they got the goal, our leaders on the bench spoke up. Guys like Troy Boisjoli and Tyler Gow said ‘Let’s get back to basics.’ It all started with our penalty killers following their goal. They killed the rest of the penalty and right away we get a power play of our own and we were able to score.”
In the Bethel camp, Aus was quick to praise a St. Norbert defense that held the Royals to only four second-period shots.
“We were out of sync the entire period,” he said. “The credit goes to St. Norbert. They take away time and space. I could play the game if you gave me enough time and space; Those are important and they gave us very little.”
Damjanovich finished the game with 30 saves for the Royals, and though they weren’t enough, Aus was not one to hang his head following the defeat.
“We’ve had a terrific season,” he said. “We won our first-ever league championship, we won our first ever playoff championship, we won an NCAA game. We just couldn’t get anything going tonight and this is an awfully tough place to win at.”
The Royals finish one of their finest seasons ever at 18-10-1.
As far as St. Norbert, now 25-3-2, is concerned, it’s time to start thinking about Oswego State.
“Well, I can tell you Norwich is a great team and Oswego just shut them out,” he said. “We all watched on ESPN as Norwich shut out Middlebury not too long ago, so for Oswego to come out and shut out Norwich, you know they are a great team.”