The team which was 7-4-4 at Christmas break and virtually written off will be competing for their second consecutive national championship.
St. Norbert kept the powerful Norwich Cadets in check, winning the national semifinal game, 4-1, in Lake Placid.
“A highly emotionally-charged game,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “There’s a lot on the line, and I thought our guys handled it extremely well. We fought through a lot of adverse situations this year in general. And this team kept getting better and better and better. At Christmas break, we were 7-4-4, and I don’t know if anybody thought we would be sitting in this situation.”
The main reason they are sitting in this position is because of freshman goaltender David Jacobson, who started the season third on the depth chart.
“David Jacobson was not our starting goaltender,” Coghlin said. “In fact, he got third reps in the beginning of the year. He stayed positive, stayed patient. He’s a highly-competitive, highly-motivated, very athletic young man. When he got his opportunity, he said thank you very much and went from there. From that point, the course solidified itself.”
It took a little while to solidify tonight, as Norwich came out flying, with multiple opportunities to score.
“Very frustrating game for us,” Norwich coach Mike McShane said. “I thought we had a lot of quality chances early in the game, but we didn’t capitalize. Their goalie made some big saves.”
After St. Norbert withstood the numerous Norwich scoring chances, the Green Knights scored first at 18:20 on a power play. The play was a result of Johan Ryd fanning on the initial shot. He recovered to get the puck to the net.
With his timing off, Parker Carroll only managed to get it to bounce off him. Joe Perry was waiting at the post to knock the rebound in.
“Johan kind of whiffed on the shot and it made it kind of like a pass to me,” Perry said. “The goalie kind of wasn’t able to adjust to where I was.”
“They got the early goal,” McShane said. “It was a good goal. That gave them the jump. The last couple of games, we got the early goal. They got the momentum. The team that takes advantage of the momentum wins. And they took advantage of it.”
Again, both teams missed golden opportunities to score in the second period. Ryd had an opportunity to put his team up by two with a tip-in attempt at an open net, but it went wide. Tory Allen could have tied the game with a virtual two-on-none, but his blast was right at the goaltender’s chest.
Chris Rial finally did score to make it 2-0 at 11:45. A defensive lapse allowed Rial to be all alone in the slot area. When the puck got to him, he skated around the helpless goalie and easily deposited it into the open net.
The turning point of the game came early in the third period with St. Norbert on a power play. Pier-Olivier Cotnoir got a short-handed breakaway. He went to his backhand, perhaps too deep to get a shot off, but Jacobson still needed to dive to stop the puck off his wrist. A couple of minutes later, St. Norbert scored to make it 3-0.
“He had him down, but couldn’t get it up,” McShane said. “That was the turning point of the game.”
“To me, that was the turning point of the game right there,” Coghlin said. “Huge momentum swing. An absolute brilliant stop by Davy.”
Seth Soley put the dagger into the Cadets at 4:56 of the final period on a power play with a tip-in from a right point blast by Marian Fiala.
By now, it was just a matter of finishing the game off. Norwich broke the shutout at 14:39 with a power-play goal, the Cadets’ only one in eight attempts. Blake Forkey off to the side of the net one-timed a rebound into the short side.
“It was a four-on-three, so there was different personnel out there,” Forkey said. “I’m usually at the point, not down low. I just tried to get into position for the rebound.”
Kyle Stroh completed the scoring with a short-handed, empty-net goal with 10.2 seconds left.
Norwich, the number one ranked team coming into Lake Placid, finishes the season at 24-3-2.
St.Norbert (20-5-5), the team that did not expect to be here back in December, will play for the national title against the winner of the Amherst-Oswego semifinal.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Coghlin said. “I’m hoping the ride can continue.”