The storybook playoff run came to a Cinderella end for the No. 4 seeded Neumann Knights as they defeated the No. 3 seed Hobart Statesmen 3-2. Neumann defeated Utica in the play-in round and then downed No. 1 seed Elmira last weekend to make it to the championship game and win its first ECAC West title.
â€œOur players went out there and showed it,â€ said Neumann head coach Dominick Dawes. â€œWe were squeezing the sticks a little bit there in the first period, but in the second we outplayed [Hobart]. Their goal in the third period, we got beat down the ice. Our guys didnâ€™t give up, they wanted to be here, and they earned the right to be here.â€
Neumann won the game in dramatic fashion with just 4.2 ticks left on the clock when Matt Ward carried the puck into the zone. Ward went hard to the net and Hobart goaltender Keith Longo made the initial save but could not control the rebound. A scramble ensued and sophomore Jeff Rodell poked home the puck to give the Knights the 3-2 victory.
â€œHats off to Neumann,â€ said Hobart head coach Mark Taylor. â€œI have a lot of respect for their senior class as players. You saw two unbelievable character goals in the third period. Unfortunately, theirs was after ours.â€
Junior Aleksey Koval scored for Hobart 15:01 into the third period to tie the game 2-2 and setup the dramatic ending to the game.
With a relentless forecheck in the first period, Neumann put a lot of pressure on Hobart in the Statesmen zone, out shooting Hobart 16-7. But it was Hobart that struck first at 17:06.
The Statesmen were on their only power play of the period when Aleksey Koval dug the puck away from the half boards. Koval spotted Blake Bonham alone in the slot and fed him the puck. Bonham only got part of his stick on the puck but was able to get enough of the one timer to put it through Ross MacKinnonâ€™s five-hole for the goal.
â€œKoval stepped to the plate big time,â€ said Taylor. â€œHe was solid for us down in Manhattanville. That goal that he scored was a great, great goal. It was skill and it was effort.â€
Hobart started the second period very strongly, dominating play territorially and generating several good scoring chances, including during an early power play. On that same power play, Statesmen senior goaltender Keith Longo robbed Neumann junior Matt Ward on a breakaway shorthanded scoring chance with a great glove save.
Neumann tied the game at 9:20 with a power play goal by freshman Jeremy Gates. Jesse Cole gained control of the puck behind the Hobart net and hit Gates with a long pass through the faceoff circle. Gates launched a rocket from the left point that went into the upper right corner of the net for the goal to tie the game 1-1.
Game play opened up during the middle of the second period with end-to-end action. Hobart tightened up defensively again during the waning minutes of the second period and carried play.
The Knights stuck again with just 15.2 seconds remaining in the period. Matt Ward scrambled behind the net for the puck and fed Cole just outside the left side of the crease. Cole chipped the puck over Longoâ€™s shoulder to give Neumann a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.
â€œSince January, Cole has been our hottest player,â€ said Dawes. â€œHe is so good at protecting the puck. He does the little things, is in the right spot and reads the play well.â€
As the third period opened, Neumann had to weather a furious storm from Hobart. The Knights came through the first ten minutes unscathed and then did a great job of bottling up Hobart in its own half of the ice.
â€œWe did a good job of doing it,â€ said Dawes. â€œBoth goalies played unbelievable. Ross MacKinnon has made a name for himself these last two games.â€
The Statesmen were finally able to breakout and tied the game at 15:01 due to an outstanding individual effort. Aleksey Koval carried the puck down the right side, got netminder MacKinnon to commit to the near post, and then beat him to the far post with a wrap around to tie the game 2-2.
â€œIf you look back at the game, there were many times where we were a bounce away,â€ concluded Taylor. â€œThey found a way to get it done. There is little difference between winning and losing, and it happened to be four seconds.â€