Seven — Eleven
Another Division III season is in the books, and another title for Middlebury. Since the NESCAC began allowing its teams to compete in the NCAA tournament in 1995, the Panthers have won seven of 11 titles.
“It’s really a legacy,” said Middlebury coach Bill Beaney. “We’ve built our program on strong defense and great goaltending, and this year was no different.”
Actually, this year seemed a lot like the 2003-2004 season, when the Panthers went through a brief mid-season swoon before changing goaltenders and then charging to the title. Last season, it was senior Marc Scheuer who stepped up; this time around it was freshman Ross Cherry, who started the season on the JV team and wound up backstopping Middlebury to a national championship.
“It’s been a long road,” said Cherry. “I struggled a little bit early in the year, adjusting to getting back into school and the hockey on top of it, but coach Beaney sent me the message early in the year that if I didn’t straighten it out on and off the ice, that I wasn’t going to get a chance. That motivated me to push myself and get everything in order, and when he gave me a chance to play, I went with it.”
Cherry was 14-1-2 as a starter, and made 45 of 47 saves last weekend. His 29 save performance in the title game was the fourth time Middlebury won the championship via the shutout.
Although Cherry stepped in the middle of the season, the other Panther goaltender, Yen-I Chen, finished with the exact same goals against as Cherry: 1.61. The two tied for the best GAA in Division III. That’s a legacy.
USCHO’s staff has voted for the Division III all-USCHO team. Here’s my ballot:
Forward: Kurtis McLean, Norwich — The first four-time first team All-American in history.
Forward: Mike Wiggins, Wisconsin-Superior — Led the nation in goals with 31.
Forward: Jason Deitsch, St. Norbert — Three time first-team All-American finished with 184 career points.
Defense: Ryan Tew, St. Norbert — Three time All-American had 95 career points as a blueliner.
Defense: Dale Lupul, Wisconsin-Superior — The Yellowjacket’s rock on defense.
Goal: Doug Kisielius, Trinity — Was the best of a talented field of netminders.
Forward: Gus Katsuras, Hamilton — Had some big goals in big games, 22 overall.
Forward: Beau Kretzman, Amherst — Was the best player for Amherst all four years he was there.
Forward: Jimmy Sokol, Utica — Sokol was the rock Gary Heenan built his program on. One of the best skaters in D-III, he had 58 career goals.
Defense: Brian Phinney, Middlebury — Anchored the best defense in Division III.
Defense: Keith Detlefson, Gustavus Adolphus — Led Division III in points by a defenseman with 38.
Goal: Adam Hanna, St. John’s — .939 save %, 1.62 GAA. The numbers say it all.
Forward: Joe Ori, Trinity — The Bantam’s MVP.
Forward: Eric Frank, UMass-Dartmouth — Was the leading scorer in Division III this season with 59 points.
Forward: Pat Doherty, Southern New Hampshire — Underrated player had 26 goals on the season for the Penmen.
Defense: Patrick Walsh, Colby — Averaged a point a game.
Defense: Jon Lounsbury, Southern Maine — Was key to the Huskies having their best season in years.
Goal: Kyle Jones, St. Norbert — The only freshman named to the All-American team this year.
Rookie of the Year: Since it’s hard to compare goalies and forwards, I’m splitting this award between Middlebury netminder Ross Cherry, who led the nation in save percentage (.943) and New England forward Mike Carmody, who tallied 46 points in his freshman season.
Coach of the Year: Gary Heenan, Utica — In just four seasons, Heenan built a team from scratch that won the ECAC West regular season title and was a game away from making the NCAA tournament. This team worked harder than any other I saw this season.
An Almost Storybook Ending
The flip-side of Middlebury winning the title was the ride that St. Thomas had in the post-season. The Tommies were behind midway through the third period of their MIAC semifinal with Bethel, but came back to win and then never trailed in road games against St. John’s (once in the MIAC championship and once in the NCAA first round), St. Norbert, and Trinity.
The injury to senior captain Dustan Lick, the Tommies’ best player, was a rallying point for the team, who wanted to keep winning until they could get him back in the lineup. He broke his leg on Jan. 21, but was healthy enough to rejoin the team in time to play in the Frozen Four.
Lick’s post-game comments after losing in the title game were refreshing in this era of “Winning is Everything”.
Looking at the second place trophy, he said, “This isn’t the one we wanted, but it’s pretty darn good. There’s a lot of teams in the country playing (Division III) hockey, and we played second best this year. We’re really proud of it, and we’re really proud of our team. We had a great bunch of guys, we stuck together and fought hard, but it just didn’t go our way.”
Lick said that his final game taught him something, which of course is the goal of college athletics. He summed up his career and made notice of the fact that it, like that of most college hockey players, ends with a loss.
“It was a pleasure to play with all these guys,” said Lick. “There’s only one team in the country that can end with a ‘W’, and that’s the way it goes. I wanted to win this, but sometimes you lose. I’m just going to try to take this as a life lesson and work hard for everything I get, and hopefully get those ‘W’s later down the road.”
That goes for all the seniors this season.
Farewell … For Now
This is my final column of the season. I want to sincerely thank the many coaches, players, and Sports Information Directors for their cooperation, time and patience. I also want to thank the USCHO staff, especially the D-III guys, who made this the best season of coverage we’ve ever had.
Also, thank you to all the fans who took time to send an email or introduce themselves to me at the rink. A special thanks go out to the hockey parents, who have sacrificed so much and raised such fine men. You should all be proud.
I also want to thank my family for putting up with yet another season of writing and broadcasts. Sweetheart, have I mentioned yet that RIT has 27 road games next season?
I’ve gotten a lot of questions from coaches, players and fans about the future of Division III coverage at USCHO, considering that the team that I do radio for, RIT, is moving to Atlantic Hockey. Rest assured that USCHO will continue to bring you the finest Division III hockey coverage in the world next season, and for many more to come. The number of readers of the Division III page skyrocketed this season, and we’re not stopping now. I will definitely continue to write about, and care about, Division III. Hockey is the best game on the planet, and my favorite variety will continue to be that played at the Division III level.
Until next time.