I’ve been covering Division III hockey before any of the guys on your national champion Neumann Knights were born. And I have never seen anything like what transpired this post season. Starting with the ECAC East playoffs, it was a wild an unpredictable ride that saw two unheralded teams playing in the national title game.
Neumann was the last team into the tournament, which for them essentially started with the ECAC West playoffs. The Knights needed to win a play-in game to make the semifinals, and then defeat Elmira and Hobart in their rinks to earn its way into the tournament. Ditto Gustavus Adolphus, which had to knock off the two favored MIAC teams to win it way into the NCCA’s.
Even without some traditional powerhouses like St. Norbert, Middlebury and Norwich, there was still Plattsburgh, (ranked #1 for 13 straight weeks to end the season), UW-Superior, and Amherst. But the final four included two teams (UW-Stout and Neumann) than had never been there, one team with a senior class that had made the national semifinals their freshman year (Hobart) and a team who hadn’t been to the national semifinals since 1982 (Gustavus).
I saw the Knights in the infancy of their program, and it wasn’t an easy childhood. Here’s some of the growing pains:
* The first time Neumann played Hobart, it lost 15-0 (10/31/1998)
* Neumann scored 14 goals in ten varsity games its first season (0-10)
* Neumann won its first varisty game on 11/20/1999 (8-7 win over Scranton)
* The Knights were 14-125-5 their first seven seasons
* Neumann lost 24-0 to RIT on 2/5/2002. They were outscored 215-37 that year, their first in the ECAC West
* Neumann’s first winning season was in 2005-2006, when these seniors were freshman. Since then the Knights are 69-23-8
* First year Neumann Coach Dominick Dawes is just five years out of college. He played in three final fours for Norwich, winning a national title in 2003 and graduating in 2004.
* Hats off to the previous two Neumann coaches: Dennis Williams (now an assistant at Alabama-Huntsville), who turned the program around, and Phil Roy (now an assistant at Bowling Green) who brought in this year’s talented freshman class.
Congratulations to all the teams, and especially all the seniors, who made this seaon so memorable.