Men’s Division III championship on tap in Minneapolis

Can Jackson Brewer lead Trinity to a D-III national title? (photo: Melissa Wade)

Adrian. Amherst. Trinity. Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Those four schools are all that remain in the men’s Division III tournament.

Here is a team-by-team preview of what to expect this weekend in Minneapolis.

ADRIAN

Adrian and Wisconsin-Stevens Point have been two of the best teams in the nation all season, and this weekend, the two teams will represent the West Region.

Adrian plays Trinity Friday in the first-ever meeting between the two schools while Stevens Point battles Amherst in the other national semifinal at Ridder Arena.

The Bulldogs, the 2011 national runner-up, are headed to their second final four in program history, while the Pointers are here for the second straight season. They were the national runner-up a year ago.

Adrian (24-3-3) comes in as the hottest team in the nation, winning 12 consecutive games, and they have fueled that success behind a high-powered offesne that cranks out nearly five goals per game (4.77).

Kyle Brothers and Mathew Thompson have anchored the attack. The freshmen sensations have scored 24 and 22 goals, respectively, leading a team that has scored 143 goals overall. Both do a tremendous job of sharing the puck as well. Brothers has come through with 25 assists and Thompson has dished out 20.

But Adrian is hardly a two-man show. Josh Ranalli (17-27), Duston Hebebrand (13-15) and Jeremy Olinyk (11-17) have all stepped up as well.

Defensively, Scott Shackell has been tough all year, winning 18 games and fashioning a 1.99 goals against average along the way.

The key for Adrian is to click offensively. It’s what has helped the Bulldogs put together an impressive win streak. Adrian has scored four or more goals all but once during the streak, including nine in the NCAA tournament. Their defense hasn’t been bad either as they have given up two or more goals seven times during the streak.

WISCONSIN-STEVENS POINT

Stevens Point has been waiting all season for another shot at the championship. The Pointers enter the weekend two steps away from hoisting the trophy.

The Pointers (22-6-1) are in the national semifinals for the eighth time in program history and are seeking their first title since 1993.

Stevens Point has been tough to stop, averaging 4.34 goals per game, and are in the midst of back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 campaigns.
Kevin Gibson has been instrumental to the Pointers’ success. He was the WIAC Player of the Year and is the top scoring defenseman in the nation (eight goals, 22 assists).

Joe Kalisz has risen to the occasion time and again as well and has scored 17 goals, which ties him for 15th in the country in that category. He has also tallied 14 assists and is the Pointers’ leading scorer.

Brandon Jaeger is making the most of his senior season in goal, winning 22 games. His 61 wins overall is tied for the most in program history. Jaeger owns a 2.28 goals against average and is tied for third in the nation in shutouts (five).

The Pointers need to be able to find ways to score against a stingy Amherst defense. If they can do that, they will be in position to move on and take aim at finishing the job they started a year ago.

TRINITY

It all could have unraveled. It didn’t of course, which is how Trinity has come to make its second Frozen Four appearance and first since 2005.

The Bantams had been loping along, NESCAC regular-season crown in hand, sporting a No. 2 USCHO poll ranking, and riding an eight-game win streak, until they were ambushed in the opening round of the conference tourney by final seed Tufts.

Trinity then had to watch and wait after second-seed Amherst grabbed the league’s tournament crown and the automatic NCAA bid that went with it.

Still, Trinity’s glittering 23-3-1 while competing in arguable the toughest conference in the country made the Bantams’ exclusion from the NCAA’s next to impossible.

Convincing wins over Nichols (4-2) and Plattsburgh (5-1) only confirmed Trinity’s tourney worthiness.

Looking to make his post-season mark will be sophomore forward Ryan Cole, the NESCAC’s Player of the Year and second leading scorer (15-21-36 overall), whose empty-netter sealed the win over Nichols.

AMHERST

The goal that put Amherst into the Frozen Four might have been a little sketchy, but their getting there was no fluke.

The Lord Jeffs showed they merited a shot at the national title by grinding their way to a 22-4-2 record – their best mark since 2012 (24-4-1), when not by coincidence, they made their only other Frozen Four appearance (finishing third).

Then, as now, Amherst nibbled their opponents to death, scoring just over three goals per game – a little better than middle-of-the-pack, but giving up just two. In fact, in 2012, the Jeffs were the nation’s stingiest team, allowing 1.66 goals per game. This year, behind senior goalie Danny Vitale, Amherst was sixth in goals allowed (2.14 gpg).

Even so, behind NESCAC scoring leader freshman David White (19-15-34 overall including five game-winning goals), there was enough goal production to fashion a current eight-game winning streak which netted the Jeffs a NESCAC tournament crown, as well as that nerve-wracking 4-3 NCAA quarterfinal win in overtime over No. 1 ranked Norwich courtesy of Mike Rowbotham’s seeing-eye game-winner.

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