MINNEAPOLIS — Oswego State rang the bell and Adrian immediately answered.
Adrian forward Shawn Skelly’s second goal of the game at 2:23 of the third period turned out to be the game winner as the Bulldogs advanced to Saturday’s NCAA Division III championship game with a 5-3 victory over the Lakers on Friday at Ridder Arena.
Skelly’s goal came only 23 seconds after Oswego State’s Paul Rodrigues’ bid for the go-ahead goal rang off the left post and just over a minute after Ian Boots scored for the Lakers to tie the game 3-3 completing a comeback from a first-period, two-goal deficit.
Skelly said the Boots goal was a momentum changer and recognized the enormity of his response.
“Obviously, coming out in the third period we wanted to keep the lead,” said Skelly. “Once we gave up that early goal I think my goal was just a huge boost to the team.”
Oswego State forward Andrew Mather had a hand in all three Laker goals (two goals, one assist) and Paul Beckwith made 26 saves but it wasn’t enough to earn the Lakers their first berth in the title game since 2007. The game marked the first time all season Oswego State lost a game in which it scored at least three goals (21-1).
“It seemed like the whole game we were trying to play catch-up,” lamented Oswego State coach Ed Gosek. “When you get here you can’t make the glaring mistakes that we made today that ended up in the back of our net.”
For the Bulldogs, linemate Eric Miller assisted on both of Skelly’s goals and Adrian goaltender Brad Fogal turned away 39 Oswego State shots in the latest biggest win in the program’s short history.
The trip to the final comes in only the Bulldogs’ second NCAA Division III Tournament appearance and first-ever trip to the Frozen Four after only four years of NCAA competition. Adrian enters the championship game unbeaten in 18 games while riding the momentum of Division III’s longest active winning streak (14 games).
In a fast-paced opening period, bodies were flying early on with Adrian coming out particularly aggressive both physically and with its forecheck. The Bulldogs nearly paid for that aggression twice in the first five minutes, surrendering a pair of odd-man rushes for which Fogal was equal to the task.
Zach Graham’s power-play goal at 14:19 of the first looked like it was going to hold up as the period’s lone goal until Andrew Dovey stripped the puck from an Oswego State defenseman inside the circle to Beckwith’s left and buried his fifth goal of the season just 15 seconds before the break for a 2-0 Bulldogs lead.
“I thought in the first we weren’t very gritty,” said Gosek, whose 163-46-14 record in eight seasons at the Lakers’ helm ranks him third on the school’s all-time wins list. “It just seemed like we had long sticks, we didn’t want to get involved, we didn’t want to get our noses bent or go into the dirty areas of the ice in front of our own net and offensively.”
“I thought the second period we came out and played the way we are capable of and had some momentum going our way.”
The Lakers did, in fact, bounce back in the second, scoring twice and outshooting Adrian 20-8. Mather’s two second-period power-play goals from nearly the same spot in the right circle provided bookends to Skelly’s one-timer from the slot just 22 seconds after Oswego’s Matt Singelton went off for tripping at 8:26.
Despite the virtual tipping of the ice, Adrian coach Ron Fogarty felt fortunate heading into the final period up 3-2.
“They’re a very good team and we managed to escape the second period still up a goal and that was a big boost for our team,” said Fogarty who in just four seasons has guided the Bulldogs to a 101-11-2 record.
Fogal credited his teammates, particularly the defensemen, for the way they adapted defensively to the Lakers’ attack.
“[Oswego State is] a very highly skilled offensive team and they came in waves and sustained some good pressure,” said Fogal. “We have such a smart and experienced defensive corps that you could tell as the game wound down we started to do more of the little things right and not chase around like we were doing maybe the first two periods.”
While happy to be where they are, the significance of Adrian’s accomplishment thus far hasn’t fully registered in the minds of the players.
“I don’t think you realize the magnitude of it until maybe it’s all over,” said Fogal. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but you try to live in the moment; you try to take care of business at hand.”
“I don’t think it’s going to soak fully in until a week from now because I still feel like I’m coming back next year for a fifth-year glory run,” said Miller.
“I’ll take ya,” replied Fogarty.