Lake Placid, N.Y. — St. Norbert came into the NCAA Division III championship weekend with one thought on their minds — to get another shot at the final game. They fulfilled that wish, defeating Norwich, 3-0, in the first semifinal game at Lake Placid.
The plan went according to script. St. Norbert scored early, then relied on All-American Kyle Jones to pitch yet another shutout, his NCAA record 24th in his stellar career. Jones made 26 saves, frustrating Norwich all afternoon, as the Cadets outshot St. Norbert, 26-19.
“I thought our first period was very good,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “I thought the first period set the tone for us for the style of play. We generated what we needed to generate in the first to get us going.”
“I thought they got the jump early on,” Norwich coach Mike McShane said. “You could see they were skating a little quicker than we were. They were beating us to the puck. That kind of set the tone. We had plenty of chances, some grade A chances, but their goalie played very well, and their defense played very well in front of him. We didn’t get the rebound for the second shot.”
“We had a lot of chances,” Norwich forward Rick Cleaver echoed his coach. “They have a good goalie. Their defense played well in front of their net. He made some good saves.”
The first goal of the game at 3:05 was scored on an innocent looking shot from Steven Sleep. However, David Thompson lost sight of the puck, and never quite knew where it was after making the save. The ensuing scramble eventually resulted in the puck crossing the line thanks to Tyler Allen.
“I just threw it to the net hoping for a rebound,” Sleep said. “It looked like he battled the puck for a bit, couldn’t get control. Allen went for the net and put it in. That’s what we talked about before the game — just get pucks to the net and having a guy go hard to the net. It paid off.”
Norwich finally started applying pressure, but it was St. Norbert’s counterattack that produced a goal. Sleep, going in on a 2×1, shot it through Thompson. Thompson was visibly upset over letting it through at 9:52.
“It started out on a good breakout,” Sleep said. “Allen hit Belanger. I just went to the middle, and then I was on my own, and I just put it under his arm.”
The second period saw Norwich begin to come after St. Norbert, outshooting the Green Knights 9-6 in the middle stanza. Jones was called upon to make some big saves. None were bigger than the one he made on Nikita Kashirsky about halfway through the game.
Kashirsky found himself to the left of Jones with the goalie out of position and a virtual open net to shoot at.
“I made a move to the left,” Kashirsky said. “He was out of position, and I just went up, and his glove was there, and it went up high over the net. It would have been a huge goal for us. It would have been 2-1.”
“I did get a little piece of it, and it went over the top of the net,” Jones said. “A little bit lucky, but you have to be lucky sometimes.”
A couple of minutes afterwards, St. Norbert put the dagger into Norwich’s hopes when Matt Boyd made it 3-0 at 12:53.
Thompson made the initial save on Shane Wheeler’s shot, but once again could not control the rebound. He scrambled around the crease trying to cover it, but it squirted out where Boyd fired it under the sprawled goaltender.
The game was a hard hitting affair, one that favored St. Norbert. The intensity continued through the third period as St. Norbert had to withstand the Cadets last hopes to get back into the contest. But, Jones continued to make one save after another.
“They are a very well coached team,” McShane said. “They check extremely well. They got some big hits. Timely hits. Didn’t take many penalties. They blocked a lot of shots.”
Norwich ends their season at 22-6-0.
“It was a great season,” McShane said. “Up and down early. We had some injuries. The kids fought back. It was a fine year. We won a lot of big games. All the big games we had to win this year we won except this one. When I look back at the season, it was a gratifying season.”
St. Norbert (24-1-4) played the exact game they needed — hard fought, hard hitting, timely goals, and great goaltending.
“Kyle is a tremendous young man and he’s been very, very good in his career here,” Coghlin said. “He is able to make some saves. If they had grabbed some momentum then, you never know how it would go. He gives us a chance.”
The chance to get another shot at a national championship against the winner of the second semifinal game between Plattsburgh and Elmira.