MENOMONIE, Wis. — As many expected, the NCHA quarterfinal battle between NCHA rivals Stout and St. Scholastica ended up being decided by a single goal.
With the game deadlocked 1-1 in the final minute, Stout senior defenseman Jack Wolgemuth teed one up from the right point with 37 seconds to play. The shot beat St. Scholastica goaltender Steve Bounds high glove side and propelled the Blue Devils to a 2-1 win over the Saints.
The win advanced the Blue Devils to their first Frozen Four in school history, where they will meet Gustavus Adolphus in Friday’s first semifinal in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Wolgemuth’s blast might have bailed out the Blue Devils, as the Saints applied constant pressure on Blue Devils’ goaltender Matt Koenig. The Saints held a 34-26 shot advantage in the contest.
“I think we stole one,” said Stout coach Terry Watkins. “They kicked our butts for several periods. They kept it deep, they kept it on our goalie, and they were all over us. We got lucky.”
Though no doubt frustrated with the loss, St. Scholastica coach Mark Wick was pleased with the effort of the Saints.
“It was a great hockey game with a ton of chances from both sides,” he explained. “The thing is that at this time of the year they got the last goal and that was the difference. Aside from that, I don’t think there were many differences between us. I thought we played well.
“You never want to lose a game and look back and think you didn’t play well. We played well tonight and I’m proud of these guys. They have done a lot and they laid it on the line tonight. They shouldn’t have any regrets about what they did tonight.”
The Blue Devils got on the board first with a power-play goal at 11:32 of the opening frame. A low shot through traffic from the right point caromed around the top of the crease and was eventually poked in by Blue Devils’ forward Andy Sternberg.
Considering that Stout had fallen behind in its six previous games, which they all won, Watkins wasn’t quite sure what to make of the early lead.
“See, that’s what screwed us up,” he joked. “It seems like we haven’t played from ahead for a long time. We have not come out and played a great first period all year. I don’t know why. We’ve talked about it, we’ve changed things, but for whatever reason we come out and react to what our opponent does.”
The Saints received a power play late in the period, but Koenig kept them off the board and the Blue Devils carried the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Saints really started to dial up the offense in the second period, and the pressure paid off at the 12:34 mark when forward Matt Stengl cleaned up a rebound and poked it past Koenig to knot the game 1-1.
St. Scholastica threatened to take the lead less than four minutes later, but forward A.J. Tucker was unable to beat Koenig on a breakaway attempt. The Blue Devils were assessed a penalty on the play, however, and the Saints nearly took the lead on the ensuing power play. Only the left goal post kept them off the board and the period ended deadlocked at one.
The fact the game was tied after two periods hardly surprised either coach.
“This was a new place for both of us,” said Watkins. “We hadn’t been here, they hadn’t been here, and though I didn’t think either team was overly sharp. We all knew it was going to be a one-goal game at the end.”
“That was exactly the type of game I think both teams expected to be in,” added Wick.
The ice was tilted in the Saints’ favor for a majority of the third period, but largely due to the efforts of Koenig, St. Scholastica was unable to net a go-ahead goal.
“Matt Koenig has played like this since November 9 or 10,” said Watkins. “He has been flat-out solid. He’s staying on his feet, he’s calm, he’s seeing the puck and he’s controlling rebounds. He’s been unbelievable.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a kid who has done what he has. We hopped on his back and he took us for a ride.”
The stellar play of Koenig in the first 19 minutes of the period set the stage for Wolgemuth. A loose puck deep in the left corner was picked up by Stout forward Scott Motz and worked to Wolgemuth, who was all alone on the right point. The All-American defenseman controlled the pass, loaded up the shot and unleashed the game-winner.
“I was the only one on the right side, got great pass from Motz, shot it high glove and it ended up going in,” described Wolgemuth.
“That was just a great shot,” said Watkins. “I mean, wow!”
The goal might have been a bit of poetic justice for Wolgemuth, who earlier in the game had been a bit frustrated with his inability to beat Bounds on a couple of scoring opportunities.
“On those early ones, I had to shoot so they didn’t get blocked. I had to take what they gave me,” he said. “On the last one, it was one-on-one. I saw [Bounds] and he saw me and I ended up squeaking it by him.”
The close loss might be a tough one to chew on for the Saints, who finish the season at 20-7-2, but Wick insists his team has nothing to hang its head about.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys for the effort they made out there. I’m not frustrated in the loss but I’m frustrated that these guys have to feel the way they do.”
“When kids come in, you ask them to leave the program in a lot better shape than when they got here, and right now that’s where this program is. I haven’t scored a goal all season, it’s all these guys, and people will always be able to look back and say it’s the class with Trevor Geiger that turned it around.”
Geiger, a senior captain, was part of Wick’s first recruiting class four years ago. Led by Geiger, that class turned a perennial loser into a team clearly worthy of its NCAA tournament bid.
“You want to leave it all out on the ice and not bring anything back, and I think our team left it all out there,” reflected Geiger. “When this senior class came in, we knew we were here to turn this program around. I think we’ve left it in a good position. We’ve done all we could in our four years, and we didn’t win a national championship, which was our goal, but the rest of these guys will be back and ready to go next season.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils have at least one more game to play, and it will be played on the biggest stage of all.
“This was the last home game for us seniors, and to be able to go out with a win in front of our home crowd in the NCAA tournament is just a great feeling,” said Wolgemuth.
“I can’t ask for more’ I’m on cloud nine right now. As a senior, to be able to go to Lake Placid and play in the Frozen Four at Herb Brooks Arena, I can’t even describe it. All the credit to our goalie, our coaches and our whole team. Everybody has worked so hard and now we are right there. We are going to New York and it’s pretty unbelievable.”