SUPERIOR, Wis. — Its been a long road marked with steady improvement for Stout, but it finally crested the mountain as the Blue Devils hung on for a 4-3 Peters Cup finals victory over Superior in front of a raucous Wessman Arena crowd.
The win was the first Peters Cup title in school history for Stout, and also earned the Blue Devils the NCHAs automatic qualifier bid into the NCAA tournament.
Its great for the kids, said Blue Devils head coach Terry Watkins. I just think that our guys worked awfully hard all year long. I think weve lost one game since November and to do that in this league is incredible. Weve been lucky enough to beat some awfully good teams over the past month.
The Blue Devils conference championship marked the first time since 1996 someone other than Superior or St. Norbert skated away from the conference tournament with Peters Cup in tow.
The Blue Devils have come from behind to win numerous times in the second half of the season, so it was only fitting they did it again to win the title.
Forward Logan Isley put Superior on the board first 11:20 into the opening frame when his wrist shot from the right point wound through traffic and over the shoulder Blue Devils goaltender Matt Koenig.
Stout responded only 59 seconds later, however, as following a tripping penalty on the Yellowjackets, Blue Devil defenseman Matt Morin jumped on a loose puck in front of the net and managed to get it through a mass of bodies and into the back of the net.
Despite a combined 11 power-play opportunities in the game, Morins was the only power play tally of the night scored by either team.
The big momentum changer came with no time left on the clock in the first period. With the period winding down, Morin threw the puck at the net from deep in the corner. The rebound bounced to Stout defenseman Bobby Kuehl who slid the puck past Superior goalie Chad Beiswenger to seemingly put Stout up 2-1.
However, the clock read 0:00 and the net was off of its moorings. Despite protests from the Superior bench, a short discussion by the officials deemed the puck went in before the net came off and before time ran out. The Blue Devils were up 2-1 after one.
Grabbing the lead after the first period was very significant according to Watkins.
Anytime you score in the last minute or first minute of a period its a big deal, he explained. Going into the locker room after getting that certainly hurt them and helped us and when youre on the road you need things like that sometimes.
Watkins also made note of the fact that yet again the Blue Devils fell behind and didnt roll over.
I think coming back was probably the big thing. Weve come from behind a bunch lately, so I wasnt worried when we were down 1-0.
Stout kept the ball rolling in the second period, as 5:35 in forward Derek Hanson found some space down the right side and converted to stake the Blue Devils a 3-1 lead.
They would extend it to 4-1 with just over five minutes left in the period when forward Joel Gaulrapp hit forward David Larson down the left side just as he was crossing the Superior blueline. Larson turned the corner on the Superior defense and beat Beiswenger low. The period ended with the Blue Devils still up 4-1.
According to Watkins, though not overly surprised they were able to jump out to a lead, it was still significant they were able to get to Beiswenger, the reigning NCHA player of the year.
[Beiswenger] has been a stud. Were they great goals? Probably not, but they still put them all up on the board, he said.
Our kids are pretty resilient, he continued. They have worked hard, are in good shape, and they battle. We had a lot of energy early in that game.
Despite Stouts energy in the first two periods, the third was a completely different matter. Superior came out on fire and completely controlled the action. The dominance finally paid off with an unbelievable individual effort from Yellowjackets forward Chris Wilson at 11:13 of the period.
Wilson split two Blue Devil defenders, got hauled down, and while sliding on his stomach laid out and chipped the puck past Koenig to make it a game at 4-2.
The Yellowjackets werent finished as their offensive onslaught persisted and Isley tallied his second of the game with just less than five minutes to play. He dug the puck out of a pile up in front of the Stout net and sent it fluttering over Koenig and into the goal to bring Superior within one at 4-3.
Superior didnt win 23 games because they werent a great hockey team, and they dialed it up and we couldnt touch them. They were amazing in the last ten minutes of that game, they really were, said Watkins.
He also explained that despite their best efforts to keep up what they had been doing in the opening two periods, it didnt quite pan out that way.
We tried to do what we had been doing. I told the kids we werent going to change anything. It was a big game for us; we lost that game at St. Norbert in overtime last year and I think you have to play in a couple of those to be able to play with a lot of confidence in the third period.
He continued: We havent won any of those, so its a little difficult to come out and be cowboys when you just got on the horse.
The Yellowjackets were unrelenting in the final five minutes, but despite numerous scrambles in front of the net, passes that didnt quite connect, and a shot off the post, they were unable to score and the Blue Devils held on for the 4-3 win — largely due to the efforts of Koenig.
He was awesome, said Watkins. Hes been great for us for a long time this year. I couldnt be happier for him. He struggled a little early on, but he has been our guy. He has earned everything hes gotten this year and I just think its great for him to be playing as well as he is right now because hes worked hard to be able to do that.
Speaking to the win itself, Watkins said, we hadnt been there; hadnt one of these yet, so to get over that hurdle was a big thing. As poorly as we played in that last ten minutes it was still a big hurdle for us to clear.
Though no doubt a disappointing loss for Superior, they stand at an impressive 23-3-3 and can find some solace in the fact they are a lock for the NCAA tournament, and will likely be the top West Region seed despite the loss to Stout. Watkins was quick to emphasize how well the Yellowjackets played.
They moved the puck, they shot the puck, they took bodies and they worked hard. I dont want to take anything away from them. They played their rear ends off and it was a great finish to that hockey game.
Like Superior, the Blue Dev