The third time was the charm for the St. Norbert Green Knights (27-1-4) as they won the Division III national championship, defeating the Plattsburgh State Cardinals (25-5) by a score of 2-0.
St. Norbert’s two previous trips to the final game both ended in defeat at the hands of the Middlebury Panthers in 2004 and 2006. This is the first national championship in any sport for St. Norbert College.
“Winning it is fun,” said St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin. “The hard part is getting to that place in time. To get to the title game, to win the national championship, it doesn’t sound real.”
St. Norbert scored two goals in the second period, one by Scott Pulak at 5:53 and the second by Marc Belanger at 10:25, to take control of the game, then had to weather a five-minute power play by Plattsburgh to seal the victory.
“We’ve been living and dying this year by the power play and tonight their penalty killing was great,” said Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery. “Your best penalty killer is your goalie, and they just happen to have the player of the year as their best penalty killer. We got some pretty good chances tonight to score and we didn’t. They were probably one of the best defensive teams I’ve ever seen. We didn’t get many second chances at the puck in front of the net.”
It was the 25th career shutout by St. Norbert senior goaltender Kyle Jones, putting him one behind the NCAA career record set by Michigan State’s Ryan Miller. Jones is also the only goaltender ever to post back-to-back shutouts in the Division III semifinal and final rounds.
“Obviously the shutouts are pretty big, but it’s not even comparable to bringing this trophy home,” said Jones. “There’s no better way to go out. The team played unbelievable all weekend. We played against two incredible teams; both are fast and skilled. I’m happy with how things worked out. I’m perfectly content right now.”
The teams came out a little tentative in the first period. Both defenses did a great job of pushing the play towards the perimeter of the Olympic-size sheet of ice. As the period wore on, the intensity level grew with each team getting its best scoring chance in the final three minutes of the stanza.
Marc Belanger got St. Norbert’s best opportunity at 17:19 when he ripped a shot from the left faceoff dot. Plattsburgh goaltender Bryan Hince ducked as it whistled towards his head but caught it with a wave of his glove to keep the Green Knights off the scoreboard.
Plattsburgh got its opportunity in the last minute of the period as the Cardinals were on the power play. A blocked clearing pass put the puck on the stick of a Plattsburgh player right on the doorstep. Three separate Cardinals got a whack at the puck but Jones stopped each of them for St. Norbert.
The Green Knights outshot Plattsburgh 14-10 in the first period, but neither team was able to score.
St. Norbert finally opened the scoring 5:53 into the second period, breaking a 148:51 scoreless streak in championship games as it played in its third title contest in school history. The Green Knights were cycling the puck in the Plattsburgh zone when it came out to Nick Tabisz at the top of the right faceoff circle. Tabisz sent a strong wrist shot towards the top of the crease that Pulak deflected home for the goal to give St. Norbert the 1-0 lead.
The Green Knights struck again less than five minutes later on its first power play of the game. Marc Belanger took a feed from Matt Boyd and skated down the slot, where a quick wrist shot beat Hince blocker side.
“That shot, to me, was an NHL-type shot,” said Plattsburgh goaltender Bryan Hince. “It was unbelievable.”
“I don’t know about NHL style,” said Belanger. “I came down the middle and noticed that the D-men had given me a lot of space which I wasn’t expecting. I looked up and saw an opening and fired the puck as hard as I could. I was ecstatic when it went in.”
Plattsburgh had a great opportunity to climb back into the contest with six minutes left in the period when Pete Fylling was given a five-minute major for hitting from behind when he crushed the Cardinals leading scorer, Dylan Clarke, along the far boards.
The Cardinals poured on the pressure during the ensuing power play but the Green Knights’ penalty killers blocked several shots and only let five shots reach Jones, who directed each aside.
“The five-minute kill was huge, just huge,” said Coghlin. “Because we do play well defensively and because Kyle Jones is Kyle Jones, I think that penalty kill was an important swing.”
Just after the St. Norbert penalty ended, two Plattsburgh players were tagged with penalties on the same play as a Green Knight crashed the net, literally, plowing into Hince. The pair of penalties came with only 45 seconds left in the second period, meaning the five-on-three power play carried over into the third for St. Norbert.
Plattsburgh had two more power plays in the first half of the third period, but the stellar St. Norbert penalty killers held firm and kept the Cardinals off the board. The Cardinals tried to mount pressure as the minutes ticked off the clock in the third period, but the stifling St. Norbert defense quickly squashed each rush up-ice and turned Plattsburgh away.
The Cardinals pulled the goaltender with 2:30 remaining in the game but couldn’t break the zero on the scoreboard before the final buzzer sounded.