Lawrence head coach Mike Szkodzinski was an All-American goaltender during his playing days for St. Norbert. In that time he no doubt learned much of what he knows from Green Knights head coach Tim Coghlin. On this night, the teacher came out on top over the mentor, barely, as the Green Knights tallied two early third period goals and held on to edge the Vikings 2-1.
It is the fifth time the two teams have squared off since Szkodzinski accepted the head coaching position at Lawrence and it was by far the closest affair yet.
I think Lawrence has the ability to make you look sluggish, said Coghlin, whos Green Knights moved to a near perfect 9-0-1 on the season. Theyve got good familiarity with what we do and his kids battled very hard. Tonight Lawrence was extremely dangerous.
A somewhat tentative opening frame failed to produce a goal from either team, though St. Norbert came closest to grabbing the early lead as with just over six minutes remaining a shot from the point by Green Knights defenseman Mike Bernardy was deflected off the post. St. Norbert forward Cody Keefer nearly found the back of the net three minutes later after a slick backhand move, but the ensuing shot was poke-checked away by Vikings goaltender Evan Johnson.
A hooking call on Vikings forward Scott Minarcik with 1:55 left in the period gave the Green Knights a chance with the man advantage, but it was negated 1:32 later as St. Norbert forward Tyler Allen was dinged with a tripping call.
The Green Knights carried a 14-3 shot advantage in the period, though a majority of the shots came from the perimeter.
We were not willing or able to get to the tough areas on the ice, said Coghlin. Part of that goes to Lawrences defensive style of play and partly you want to say hey guys are we ready to go or not?
Despite holding the top-ranked team in the nation off the board in the first period, Szkodzinski thought the Vikings could have started off a bit better, particularly when it came to the offensive end of the spectrum.
We work a lot on our defensive zone coverage and our gap coverage and I think we came out so focused on the defensive zone we sort of threw it around offensively instead of keeping a bit more poise. As a young team you could see we were a little hesitant to handle the puck, he said.
The Vikings did fare better in the second period as they challenged St. Norbert goaltender B.J. OBrien on numerous occasions without sacrificing the defensive efforts that kept the Green Knights off the board in the first period.
We addressed some things a little bit after the first period and I think we were able to play a little more freely from that point on. Szkodzinski said.
The Vikings managed 13 shots on net in the frame to St. Norberts 16, but neither was able to find the back of the net and the game remained scoreless through two periods.
Less than a minute into the final frame, however, St. Norbert forward Kyle Stroh was able to corral the rebound of a shot by defenseman Nick Tabisz and slide it past Vikings goaltender Evan Johnson to finally get the Green Knights on the board.
About two minutes later, St. Norbert forward Tyler Allen circled behind net and while doing so Johnson briefly lost track of the puck and stayed on the far post, which left enough room for Allen to find an opening high near side and all of a sudden it was a 2-0 lead.
I thought we obviously came out with a little more jump and got to them in the third period and we scored a goal and then another goal. Usually when that happens our team gets contagious and it can turn into five in a hurry. Again though, Ill give a lot of credit to Lawrence because they were able to stifle it and turn it around, Coghlin said.
Turn it around the Vikings did, and they finally got on the board themselves at 6:02 of the period as forward Ben DiMarco punched one past OBrien.
There is no doubt the guys in our locker room and the guys who arent even playing dont ever give up. They still have some things to learn about being consistent and a couple bad shifts is why we fell behind, but they dont give up, Szkodzinski said.
The Vikings held firm for the remainder of the contest but were unable to get another one past OBrien and the Green Knights held on for the 2-1 win.
Not to be lost in the shuffle of the narrow loss for the Vikings was the stellar goaltending of Johnson. He stopped 37 shots in all and was a major reason Lawrence was in position to pull the upset over the top-ranked Green Knights.
He was excellent tonight and hes been excellent for us over the last year and a half. His work ethic is second to none and that makes me a huge fan of him. His demeanor is calm and he is able to settle us with how composed he can be in net, Szkodzinski said.
Coghlin was equally impressed with Johnsons play.
He was good and he is good. Im telling you he is coached by one of the best goaltending coaches in the nation. [Szkodzinski] is extremely good at what he does and he coaches and understands the position very well, Coghlin said.
Nonetheless, the Green Knights managed to avoid a shocker of an upset, thanks in large part to their substantial amount of experience in tight low-scoring games.
Were extremely comfortable playing in all those situations after all these years. Weve got a veteran group of defensemen and weve been in tight situations this year so I dont question us in those kinds of spots, said Coghlin.