DE PERE, Wis. — Whoever said young teams are not supposed to win close games must have been a pessimist. Whether he was or not, one thing is for sure and it’s that St. Norbert is making him look like a fool.
The Green Knights did it again Saturday night, as a goal by senior captain Ryan Petersen 8:28 into overtime lifted them to a 2-1 NCAA Quarterfinal win over St. Thomas and sent them to Lake Placid and their third consecutive Frozen Four.
The win runs St. Norbert’s record to an impressive 8-0 in one-goal contests this season. It was also its fourth overtime win of the season, which ties a NCAA record.
“More of the same, you know,” said Green Knights’ coach Tim Coghlin. “We just kind of keep getting it done.”
Three years ago, when St. Thomas came into the Cornerstone and dropped the Green Knights in the NCAA Quarterfinals, the Tommies jumped on top early and put St. Norbert in a two goal hole it was never able to climb out of, despite dominating the later stages of the game.
This time, it would be St. Norbert who would get the best of the early going, however, as a slap shot from the left point by freshman defenseman Mike Bernardy beat Tommie goaltender Tyler Chestnut up high to put the Green Knights up 1-0 a hair over seven minutes into the contest.
It was only Bernardy’s third goal of the season, but it was the high point of a Green Knights’ period that saw the ice tilted heavily toward the Tommie net a majority of the time. In all, St. Norbert outshot the Tommies 13-5 in the opening frame.
“We talked about that, it was very important,” said Coghlin. “You watch how they exploded on UW-Stout and all of a sudden they can score in bunches. We didn’t want to be behind the eight-ball. The first period was very important.”
The Tommies have not had 20 consecutive winning seasons under head coach Terry Skrypek for no reason, and they proved why only 22 seconds into the second period as senior forward Nick Pernula slammed an odd carom off the boards past Green Knights’ goaltender Kyle Jones to tie the game 1-1.
“We were a little surprised because we did so many good things in the first period,” explained Coghlin. “That’s all we did between periods is come in and preach about all the positive things we accomplished and then all of a sudden we didn’t do any of those things in the second period and the game spun around on us.
“That’s where you look at a team like St. Thomas, a veteran group, a tournament team, a championship program, and there’s going to be ebb and flow in the game. There’s going to be hills and valleys.”
The Tommies outshot St. Norbert 12-10 in the second stanza, but despite the period featuring plenty of scoring chances as well as special teams opportunities for both, it ended deadlocked at one.
The see-saw affair continued into the third period and St. Thomas nearly capitalized on numerous chances in the waning moments, but were unable to bang home numerous loose pucks around the Green Knights’ net.
“I thought St. Thomas had the chance to finish that thing with less than two minutes to play,” said Coghlin. “I don’t know how that puck didn’t end up in the net. That’s one of those again where Kyle looked like he was down and out and somehow it just didn’t end up in the back of the net.
“I actually had to try to get it into their heads with about five minutes to go,’ said Coghlin. “I was preaching it on the bench: ‘This is overtime, we’re already there, let’s play that way.’”
“We talked about being able to come out and have energy,” said Petersen. “We were in overtime last week and we talked about coming out and being able to create a storm right off the bat.”
The Green Knights did not allow a single shot in overtime.
Interestingly, the senior captain himself ended things 8:28 into the extra frame. After picking the puck up at the right point, Petersen walked down the right side, curled towards the net, and flung a backhand centering pass that anti-climactically deflected off the back of Chestnut’s leg and into the goal.
“I just picked up the puck, drove wide, and to be honest with you just threw it at the net,” said Petersen. “I actually didn’t see it until I went behind the goal and saw it laying there. Then the celebration went off.”
Not to be lost in the Green Knights’ celebration is the effort the Tommies put forth.
“I thought St. Thomas played an outstanding game,” said Coghlin. “I was very impressed with their team, as usual, and it was no surprise they played as well as they did.”
In light of the other quarterfinals all being essentially blowouts, it also draws into question why St. Norbert had to play a higher-seeded team like St. Thomas in the quarterfinals.
“I told (St. Thomas head coach Terry) Skrypek when we shook hands I think it’s blatantly unfair that he has to play two games to get to the Frozen Four,” said Coghlin. “He’s the two-seed in the West; there’s no way he should be playing two games.
“I understand it. I know the way the tournament works but I don’t think it’s fair, I really don’t. I think it’s an unfortunate reality.”
For St. Norbert, a team who has been so close so many times before, maybe Lake Placid still has enough magic left in it to rub off on the youngest Green Knights’ team in a decade.
“I’m a Minnesota boy so it holds dear to my heart,” said Petersen “I watch that movie about fifteen times a year so to be able to see the history behind it and go out there with our team and all our young guys on our way to try to do something special is exciting.”