The national semifinal contest between Hobart and Neumann turned into a goalie duel between Hobart’s senior All-American Keith Longo and Neumann’s Ross MacKinnon, a freshman.
When all was said and done, it was MacKinnon and the Neumann Knights who came out on top of a thrilling 2-0 victory at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y. The win advances Neumann to tomorrow’s championship game, where they will meet Gustavus Adolphus, an earlier 3-2 (ot) winner over Wisc.-Stout.
It will be the Knights’ first ever appearance in the national championship game.
Despite the fact it was a low scoring affair, it certainly was not due to a lack of scoring chances. Each team had a chance to claim an early lead in the first 90 seconds of the game, but neither capitalized, as MacKinnon and Longo both made sprawling saves.
With just over six minutes remaning in the period, persistent offensive pressure by Hobart resulted in two point blank chances for the Statesmen, but once again MacKinnon was up to the task, denying the Statesmen’s attempts at the game opening goal.
A Statesmen power play with just over two minutes remaining in the period yielded little by way of threatening offense, and despite a flurry directly in front of the Neumann goal in the final ten seconds of the period, the framed ended 0-0.
Hobart held a 12-5 shot advantage in the frame.
“I thought we got the job done,” said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. “We did a great job of keeping shots to the outside.”
Hobart’s momentum from the first was quickly killed early in the second when the Statesmen took two penalties in the first minute to give Neumann over a full minute with a five-on-three advantage.
The Knights were unable to capitalize, however, and the game remained scoreless.
The second period carried on in much the same way as the first, with Hobart mounting continuous pressure and Neumann creating the periodic rush and resultant scoring chance.
The Statesmen had a few golden scoring opportunities with just over seven minutes remaining in the period, but MacKinnon’s stellar play continued, as he stopped three rapid-fire point blank spots to keep Hobart off the board.
Two minutes later he stopped another with a tremendous blocker save.
The Knights created an excellent scoring chance following a penalty on Mike Hedden with 1:11 left in the period. The Knights sprung a short-handed two-on-one, and though Erik Stoyanovich’s shot beat Longo five-hole, it trickled just wide.
The Knights kept the Statesmen off the board for the remainder of the period, and like the first, it ended 0-0. Hobart’s 11-10 shot advantage in the period ran its game advantage to 23-15.
Neumann killed off the remaining 49 seconds of Hedden’s penalty to open the third, but little changed relative to the first two periods, as Hobart once again established control.
Little also changed regarding the play of MacKinnon, as four minutes into the period he stoned three more excellent Hobart scoring chances.
The Knights were the next to threaten to take the lead. Following a Hobart turnover in the neutral zone, Neumann forward Marlon Gardner was all alone on Longo, but his wrist shot sailed wide. The play resulted in a hooking penalty on Hobart’s Blake Bonham, and late in the ensuing power play, Neumann took the lead, even though the setup was a bit of an accident.
An errant breakout pass on the power play happened to hit Neumann forward Kyle Casey just as he was crossing into the Hobart zone. Casey made a quick move laterally across the zone, skated around a Hobart defender, and threw the puck at the net. The puck went right to the stick of forward Matt Ward, who deflected it five-hole on Longo to put the Knights up 1-0 with 8:44 left in the game.
“It was just a broken play on the breakout and Kyle Casey just made a great play,” described Ward. “He spun it towards the net and I managed to get a stick on it. I’m not even sure how it went in; I just saw it in the back of the net.”
From there, it was once again MacKinnon’s time to shine, as he turned back every shot Hobart could muster over the next eight minutes. The Statesmen pulled Longo with 1:08 to go, but only 28 seconds later Neumann forward Lincoln Schrock buried an empty-netter to seal it away at 2-0.
Hobart finishes the season at 21-7-2 and is now 0-2 all-time in national semifinal games. Longo stopped 24 shots in what is the last game of his long and illustrious career.
“It’s been an honor to play for Hobart and a great opportunity to be in the finals,” reflected Longo. “I don’t think anyone has any regrets. It’s a lot easier to swallow this way than if we had come out and not played our game.”
His sentiments regarding the overall team effort of the Statesmen were echoed by Hobart coach Mark Taylor.
“You play good hockey and you play your game,” he said. “Even though you have to make your own bounces at times, I think we made enough and it just didn’t bounce the right way for us.
“I think we played our game plan and owned a good part of the game. It just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
Meanwhile, the Knights have a date with the Gusties tomorrow, and much of the credit goes to the efforts of McKinnon, who ended the night with 33 saves.
“[He] had a hell of a night,” said Dawes of McKinnon. “He made some big saves and the guys did a great job in front of him limiting their second and third chances.”
The win is Neumann’s eighth in a row, and according to MacKinnon himself, the Knights have been getting it done in a variety of ways.
“Last game in Plattsburgh I let in four and my teammates picked me up with five goals,” he said. “Tonight, we didn’t get anything going offensively and I picked them up. We’re just battling as a team right now and when one thing isn’t going we get something else going.”
Dawes added, “When we got back into the locker room, the guys said ‘Good teams find a way,’ and I think this little run we’re on is a tribute to all these guys. It’s been different guys stepping up and making plays on different nights.”
One interesting sidebar to Neumann making the finals is that Dawes, who won a national title as a player with Norwich, has the opportunity to become the second person in Division III history to win a national championship as a player and a coach. The other is current St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin.
“This was a little bit harder than as a player as I just had to go play; it’s a little more nerve racking as a coach because I have to worry about everything,” he said. “As a player, you just put skates on and go play. You do everything you did since you were a little kid.”