SUPERIOR, Wis. — Saturday’s NCAA semifinal match up between the St. Norbert Green Knights and Oswego State Lakers looked to be a dead heat on paper. It turned out the paper didn’t lie, as the two played 60 minutes of deadlocked hockey, until a Ryan Woodward goal for Oswego 3:51 into the first overtime gave the Lakers a 4-3 win. The win moves Oswego into Sunday’s NCAA championship game where they will face the winner of Manhattanville and Middlebury.
The Green Knights opened the scoring only 3:59 into the contest as a soft wrist shot from Green Knight forward Marc Belanger would find a way between the legs of Laker goaltender Ryan Scott.
“You know, those things just happen,” said Scott. “It was only about two minutes into the game and there was a lot of time left. You can’t let it bother you. We just had to stay focused and go from there.”
Though the goal staked St. Norbert to an early lead, Green Knight head coach Tim Coghlin had an interesting take on the goal.
“I think that first goal almost came too easy,” he said. “We get it right away and it looks like this might be our day. Then I think we sat back a bit and you could really see Oswego control the rest of the period.”
The Lakers would slowly assert themselves as the period wore on. Some highlight reel saves from St. Norbert netminder Kyle Jones would keep the Lakers off the board temporarily, but Oswego’s constant pressure finally paid off at the 13:09 mark, as a Rich Zalewski shot from the left point would sneak through traffic and past Jones to tie the game, 1-1.
Oswego opened the second period maintaining the same pressure it had in the first, and its efforts were rewarded with a power-play tally at the 6:30 mark. Following a face-off in the right side of the St. Norbert zone, Laker defenseman Peter Magagna moved the puck to defenseman Tyler Lyon who was all alone at the left point. After controlling the puck, Lyon let go a slap shot, beating Jones up high to give the Lakers their first lead of the game.
The lead would not last for long as St. Norbert would even things up a little over three minutes later. A beautiful breakout pass from Green Knight defenseman James Switzer would lead to a two-on-one rush that would end with forward Kurtis Peterson beating Scott to tie the game 2-2.
In a game that featured numerous momentum swings, the Green Knights might have played their best hockey of the day in the second period.
“We only had a few stretches where I think we played well,” said Coghlin. “One shift we would come out flying and the next it looked like we were skating in sludge. I think that last seven or eight minutes of the second period was one of our few good stretches.”
In that stretch, the Green Knights would reclaim the lead, as at the 17:25 mark forward Tyler Allen would skate behind the Laker net and slide a pass to forward Ryan Petersen who was all by himself. Petersen would hit the open left side at it was 3-2 Green Knights.
“We skated hard, but at times I don’t think we skated smart,” said Oswego State head coach Ed Gosek. “A couple times there our defensemen got confused and we gave them those two-on-ones, so at times I think we didn’t play as smart as we could have.”
St. Norbert would carry the lead into the third period, where something had to give. Heading into the game, in their last 263 games when leading after two periods the Green Knights were an astounding 255-1-7. Meanwhile, Oswego had been a dominant third period team all season, outscoring opponents 48-12 in the final frame.
“The big thing we talked about heading into the third was not to force our offense,” said Gosek. “We were doing some good things offensively, and we just had to keep doing it and allow the game to come to us.”
The Lakers would continue their third period prowess and tie the game 3-3 at the 3:44 mark of the third, and it would be Lyon picking up his second goal of the game with another slap shot from the left point. Lyon entered the game with only one goal on the season, and was a rather unlikely hero for the Lakers.
“Getting up this morning I could not have imagined, in my wildest dreams, scoring two goals, especially in the national championships” he said. “I just kind of turned, put my head down and shot the puck, and that was it.”
It would be one of only three third-period shots for Oswego, but it would be enough to send the game to overtime, as despite power-play chances for each team in the final ten minutes of the period, neither was able to ice the game winner.
It looked like things were going to end quickly in the final frame as less than twenty seconds in, St. Norbert would spring free on a three-one-rush that resulted in an excellent scoring opportunity for forward Shane Wheeler, but Wheeler was unable to fully control the puck and his shot went straight into Scott’s chest.
From that point on, Oswego was again able to sustain pressure in the Green Knight end, and it would once again pay big dividends, as a chaotic sequence in front of the St. Norbert net would result in Laker senior captain Ryan Woodward burying the game winner only 3:51 in.
“I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Woodward. “Matt Whitehead, I don’t know if he was trying to get a shot off or what but his stick got whacked and broke and the momentum of the puck just sent it to me. I had a wide open net.”
“Coach has had us working on bearing down, and you know, thank God,” he jokingly added.
Though Woodward’s goal ultimately sent the Lakers to the championship game, it’s almost impossible to describe how close this game really was.
It was tied 1-1, 2-2, and 3-3; both teams registered 29 shots on goal; and it of course took overtime to decide. Though games this tight are to be expected at the Frozen Four, it’s almost a shame it had to end.
“You know, this really was just one of those that you hate to see somebody lose,” said Gosek. “Thankfully we played hard and some bounces went our way, and we found a way to win.”
Jones made 25 saves in the losing effort for St. Norbert. The Green Knights finish the season 24-4-2, and bow out in the semifinals for the second time in the past four seasons.
Scott picked up 26 saves in the win for Oswego, which runs the Lakers record to 22-3-3. Oswego’s appearance in tomorrow’s championship will be its third in school history. The Lakers also reached the finals in 1987 and 2003, but are yet to win a national title.