Wild swings of momentum were the hallmark of the opening NCAA Semifinal game between the St. Norbert Green Knights and the Hobart Statesmen this afternoon at the First Arena. The teams exchanged the lead three times during the contest before First Team All-American Connor Hughes finally scored the winning goal at 9:27 of overtime to give St. Norbert the 5-4 victory.
“It was a hard fought game,” said St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin. “I thought we were a little sluggish in the first period. It looked a little bit like we were skating in sand for some reason. Hobart played so hard. I thought we were very soft early. Fortunately we bounced back. The Hobart goaltender was very, very good. They were able to control the middle of the ice.”
St. Norbert nearly won the game at 8:29 of overtime when Ryan Petersen almost one-timed a shot past Hobart goaltender Keith Longo. But Longo slid across the crease and flipped his glove up just in time to prevent the goal and keep the game going a little longer.
“The shots that we didn’t get in overtime and the shots that we didn’t get in the second period worked against us,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “[St. Norbert] hasn’t seen a lot of shots and our goal was to outshoot them tonight. That was the difference in the game. Any time you get into overtime, it is going to be one or two plays that will end your season.”
Just under a minute later, St. Norbert won the game when Connor Hughes flipped a backhander that eluded Longo into the back of the net to win the game. The Green Knights dominated the shot clock in overtime, outshooting the Statesmen 10-1.
“I was tired,” said Hughes. “Spencer Carbery made a pass and I took a one timer. One of our guys was celebrating but I don’t know if it went in. It hit one of the bars, and the puck went into the corner. One of [Hobart’s] guys tried to slip by me. I lifted his stick and happened to beat the one guy. I was looking to throw it to the net, but I don’t know if it went past him or through him, I have no idea. I just saw it go in and I was happy.”
The first period opened with play racing up and down the ice for nearly two uninterrupted minutes, although neither team was able to muster a shot on goal. The streak was finally broken at the 1:58 mark when Hobart was tagged with the game’s first penalty.
St. Norbert rifled the game’s first shot on net from the top of the left faceoff dot just under a minute later that dinked off Hobart netminder Keith Longo’s facemask.
The Statesmen killed off two successive Green Knights’ penalties before getting their first good shot on goal at 6:45. Hobart broke into the zone with a 3-on-1 breakaway. Colby McVey passed from the middle slot to linemate Will Brame near the left faceoff circle. Brame one-timed the puck towards the net by St. Norbert goaltender Kyle Jones quickly got over to the left side of the net to block the shot.
St. Norbert opened the scoring at 8:51 when Hobart was unable to clear the puck out of its own zone. Jeff Hazelwood collected the puck in the corner and carried it out in front of the net, across the top of the crease, and wristed a strong shot on goal. Longo made the save, but the rebound sprung out to the top of the crease as his momentum carried him to the side of the net. Kurtis Peterson was there to poke the puck in to the now empty net and put the Green Knights up 1-0.
The two teams traded flurries of pressure throughout the middle portions of the period until Hobart exploded for three goals in a 2:35 span to take control of the scoreboard. The Statesmen opened their scoring at 16:02 to tie the game 1-1. Shawn Houde took a shot from the middle slot that Jones saved, but Jonathan swift was on the doorstep to chip the rebound high into the back of the net.
Just over a minute later, Hobart took a 2-1 lead. Mike Polsonetti made a scrambling save at the St. Norbert blueline to keep the puck in the zone. While Polsonetti was tied up with a Green Knights forward, Statesmen Mike McCarthy collected the puck along the blue line and wound a blast from the right point through a crowd of players. Goaltender Jones never saw the puck until it hit the back of the upper right corner of the net for the goal.
The Green Knights exhibited a little frustration with the turn of events and took a bad penalty at 18:33. Just four seconds later, Hobart converted to extend its lead to 3-1 when Will Bodine scored on a slap shot from the left point.
St. Norbert desperately needed the intermission to regroup, but started the second period killing off another Hobart power play after Kurtis Peterson took a tripping penalty with just three seconds remaining in the first stanza.
Regrouping is exactly what St. Norbert did during the first intermission. The Green Knights were able to kill off the remaining penalty at the start of the second period and then continued to build momentum throughout.
“Obviously things didn’t go the way we expected them to go in the first,” said Coghlin. “We scored the first goal, which really seemed to spark Hobart more than spark us. Normally we are a team that gets contagious when that starts to happen. We were fortunate to get into [the first intermission] down two. We just had to talk about putting that period specifically behind us.”
St. Norbert chipped away at the Hobart lead 4:47 into the second stanza when the Green Knights got Hobart scrambling around in its own zone. Ryan Petersen slid a rebound into the empty net to cut the Statesmen lead to 3-2.
“We have struggled coming back out in the second period, and it proved to be the same today,” said Taylor. “We wanted to keep the same game plan. If we could take care of the middle of the ice, keep pucks down low, and keep going to the net, we knew we would have some success.”
Hobart tried to put a lock on the game defensively during most of the second period, but the strategy that had worked successfully in most games this season for the Statesmen was unable to contain St. Norbert’s potent offense. St. Norbert outshot Hobart 13-4 in the period, reversing a slight shot on goal advantage that the Statesmen held in the first stanza.
“We came out in the second period, settled things down a little, got the puck going our direction and played a much stronger puck possession game,” said Coghlin. “That’s important for us.”
The Green Knights tied the game 3-3 ten minutes later when Connor Hughes wristed in a rebound. The play started when Spencer Carbery took a shot from the right hash mark. Longo made a pad save on the shot, but the shot squirted out the far side and Hughes finished the play at 14:42.
“In the first period, we were just throwing the puck around,” said St. Norbert freshman Jeff Hazelwood. “Everyone knew it was a 3-1 game, but we weren’t worried about it. We score goals all the time. We just went out there, calmed down, and everyone did what they needed to do.”
St. Norbert completed its comeback to retake the lead at 2:59 of the third period. Connor Hughes tried a slapshot from the top of the slot, but the puck was blocked by a body in front of the net. Green Knight Kurtis Peterson won the foot race to the loose puck and one-timed it past Longo for the power play score to give St. Norbert a 4-3 lead.
But the Green Knights lead was short lived as Hobart scored at 7:18 to tie the game 4-4. Jonathan Swift collected a loose puck near the left goal post and then circled away to gain a little room. He spotted some daylight between netminder Jones and the near post and whistled the puck through the narrow opening for the goal.
The teams jostled for an advantage during the second half of the third period. Each had a handful of prime scoring opportunities, particularly in the final five minutes, but the goaltenders held firm to send the game into overtime tied 4-4.