LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — 4-3.
That’s the magic score whenever St. Norbert and Oswego play each other. This time, it was St. Norbert who came out the winners for the first time, with a freshman scoring the winning goal with 39.4 seconds left in the game.
Cody Keefer did the honors, sending his team to the NCAA Division III national championship game Saturday afternoon against Norwich. The Green Knights never trailed in the game.
“I was going to go for a change,” Keefer said. “Saw the puck come loose. It wound up on my stick, and I just shot it.”
The shot beat Kyle Gunn-Taylor on the glove side.
“It felt like we just played four overtimes,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “Both sides played really, really hard. Fortunately, we came out on top. A great victory for our guys. I was very proud of our tenaciousness, our demeanor, how we continued to fight back.”
“I credit St. Norbert for making it difficult for us to open up and skate,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “I didn’t care for the way we played [in the first period]. A lot of that was because of St. Norbert.”
After only a goal apiece by each team in the first two periods, the teams lit the lamp five times in the third. Every time St. Norbert scored, mostly due to defensive giveaways by the Lakers, Oswego tied it up.
“If there was more time, they probably would have tied it again,” Coghlin said.
However, despite pulling their goalie, Oswego was never able to mount an attack, as St. Norbert twice cleared the puck out of its zone in the final seconds.
The Green Knights took the 2-1 lead at 4:18 of the third period on the only power play tally in the game. The shot by Keefer hit the post, but Gunn-Taylor thought it went in. Thus, he was slow to react to the rebound, which Tyler Allen shot in.
Just 54 seconds later, Oswego tied it. Justin Fox fired a bullet from the left faceoff dot, sending it to the upper far corner of the net.
Oswego committed a turnover at center ice and then never picked up the weak side defenseman, enabling St. Norbert to take the 3-2 lead at 7:02. Scott Pulak brought the puck into the zone down the right side. He passed it to the center, where Sam Tikka was racing down the middle untouched. Tikka put it through the five-hole.
This time, the lead held for awhile, until Oswego tied it with 2:32 left in regulation. A St. Norbert defender lost his stick, making it a virtual five-on-four situation. Oswego took advantage of it by driving to the net. Jon Whitelaw flipped it in from down low.
Just when it appeared to be heading for overtime, the most egregious turnover was committed by Oswego and St. Norbert was celebrating.
“You can’t give a good team the opportunities that we did,” Gosek said. “We have no one to blame about those mistakes but ourselves.”
“It went both ways,” Coghlin said of the mistakes. “I thought the turnover battle was going to be the end of both us sooner and later.”
St. Norbert scored the first goal of the game with 1:59 left in the first period on a rare defensive mistake by Kevin Huinink. As Huinink was skating out of his own zone, Johan Ryd stripped him of the puck. Ryd went in alone with Tyler Lyon coming in from the left side to defend. Ryd let go of a wrist shot from between the hash marks, putting his whole body into it, beating Gunn-Taylor glove side.
“Obviously, the first goal is huge,” Ryd said. “I was actually more satisfied with the hit earlier on the shift.”
Oswego started to take control of play in the middle stanza, and it finally paid off, tying the game with 2:46 left. Justin Fox, on the right side, gave a cross ice pass to Neil Musselwhite. Musselwhite one-timed it past B.J. O’Brien.
“Justin gave me a pass,” Musselwhite said. “I closed my eyes and just let it go.”
O’Brien wound up with 20 saves, including some very important ones in the third when Oswego was all over his net.
“B.J. was the biggest difference from last year to this year,” Coghlin said. “He made a couple of huge saves during those Oswego flurries.”
Oswego’s season ends at 26-3.
“It was a great culmination to four years,” Musselwhite said. “I’ve never played on a closer team with a better group of guys.”
“We had an unbelievable season,” Gosek said. “I don’t want this loss to diminish what they accomplished.”
“I have the utmost respect for the Oswego State hockey program, both their coaching staff and their players,” Coghlin said.
Meanwhile, Coghlin’s team moves to 24-3-3 and gets to play one more game — the very last game of the season.
“They’re right up there with the best of the best,” Musselwhite said.
“You get to the Final Four, they’re all great teams,” Coghlin said. Tomorrow’s matchup begins at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast live on CBS College Sports Network.