ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — It’s a statistic that the St. Norbert College men’s hockey players say they don’t talk about. In fact, they say it’s a statistic they didn’t even know existed.
Heading into their first-round NCAA Division III Tournament game against the University of St. Thomas, the Green Knights had an all-time record of 237-2-3, 219-1-2 under coach Tom Coghlin, when leading after two periods at home.
St. Norbert was able to add one to the win column of that unbelievable streak Wednesday night after two second-period goals gave the Green Knights a lead that they never relinquished in a 3-1 victory at the Cornerstone Community Center.
“The whole after two (periods) thing, I don’t even know what it is, I know we’re hard (to beat) after two everywhere we play,” Coghlin said. “That’s instilled after what we call ‘Green Knight pride’ — it’s a mindset and it’s the way you play.”
The win is St. Norbert’s 10th in the last 11 NCAA Tournament games. The Green Knights won the national championship in 2011 after finishing as the runner-up in ’10. The loss was St. Thomas’ first this season by more than one goal.
In the opening minutes of the game, St. Thomas looked like the defending national champions after getting knocked out of their conference tournament early and having time to prepare for St. Norbert.
“We looked early on like a team that came off an emotional high on Saturday and couldn’t get back to that emotional spot,” Coghlin said. “(St. Thomas) looked like a team that’s been off for 12 days and they were hungry and had it on a string.”
St. Norbert (18-5-5) had to weather an early storm, but started clicking the last half of the first period after giving up a goal and then killing off a five-on-three power play for 1 minute, 8 seconds. The Green Knights were finally able to get the puck out of their zone and put some shots on St. Thomas goalie Drew Fielding.
“Huge momentum swing there,” Coghlin said. “That’s when you could kind of see our bench catch fire a little bit and there was a lot more positive emotional energy on the bench at that point.”
That momentum pushed into the second period, as the Green Knights cracked the scoreboard at the 6:48 mark when Zach McDonald notched his second goal of the season by beating Fielding top shelf, glove side. Cullen Bradshaw — after a dish from Seth Soley — weaved through the St. Thomas defense and made a nice pass to McDonald.
St. Norbert struck again in the second period when Cody Keefer notched a power-play goal at 16:33. That stopped a streak of 41 straight power-play kills by St. Thomas. Keefer buried the puck in the back of the net after jumping on a rebound following a shot by Johan Ryd.
“(Johan) made a couple of nice plays down low — and the goalie made the save and the puck was just laying there,” Keefer said.
After that point, St. Norbert seemed unstoppable. That was in large part because of the effort between the pipes from freshman goalie David Jacobson. He made 23 saves on the night, and settled in after St. Thomas lit the lamp in the first period.
“After you let one in, usually there’s a little more pressure off your shoulders because you’re not thinking about the shutout or anything at all,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson noted the goal was a “fluke,” but it gave St. Thomas (18-6-2) the early lead. After St. Norbert couldn’t clear the puck out of its zone, Willi Rose ripped a shot from the boards that was tipped and went over Jacobson’s shoulder. The goal, coming at 8:32, was assisted by Tom O’Donnell.
“I think when you’re on the road and you get a goal, the first goal, I think that’s always good for the kids’ confidence and momentum,” St. Thomas coach Jeff Boeser said.
That momentum didn’t last for St. Thomas after giving up the two second-period goals. St. Thomas had its chances in the third period of a one-goal game, including a power play four minutes in. The Tommies almost knotted the tying score, but a shot by Brandon Bahnemann rang off the post.
St. Thomas — which entered the game with the nation’s 13th best power play — had six chances on the man advantage and couldn’t crack Jacobson. Boeser said that was the difference in the game.
“We made a couple mistakes and they cashed in and they made a couple mistakes and we didn’t cash in,” he said.
St. Norbert all but ended the game when Keefer netted his second goal of the game and his 15th of the season, ripping a shot past Fielding at 10:31 of the third period. Fielding finished with 21 saves.
St. Norbert will try to keep its postseason alive Saturday when it hosts Gustavus Adolphus. The Golden Gusties (17-6-5) beat Milwaukee School of Engineering 3-1 in an opening-round NCAA Tournament game Wednesday. St. Norbert and Gustavus Adolphus are familiar with each other, having skated to a 2-2 draw earlier this season.
“We’ve had really competitive games with them at this time of the year in the past,” Coghlin said.