Hoist a green beer, as the Green Knights of St. Norbert took their second consecutive national championship and third in five years on St. Patrick’s Day.
“We’re in a very surreal spot right now,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “It’s been interesting watching this team. This is the most improved team within our program from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, and I think most of our delight comes from that. To be national champions seems so unbelievable to me.”
There was no improvement needed in this game, as St. Norbert jumped out to a quick lead 17 seconds into the game and never looked back. Cody Keefer notched a hat trick.
Once again, the star of the game was freshman goaltender David Jacobson. He stopped 29 shots and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“Our season, the way we started the season and how we progressed through collectively as a group to get to this pinnacle, would emulate David’s individual season,” Coghlin said. “His journey emulated our team’s journey.”
The quick goal came as a result of the opening faceoff going back to Oswego’s Jesse McConney, who had trouble controlling it. Keefer came in to scoop up the loose puck, split the defenders, then let go a shot from the slot which beat Hare stick side.
“It takes the weight off your shoulders and gets you into the game more when you score right away,” Keefer said. “It takes the pressure off. It definitely helps to get that early lead.”
Oswego tied the game 10 minutes later on another defensive gaffe. Sam Doughtery made a poor decision to pass it across his own goal. Chris Brown intercepted it on the left side and quickly fed David Titanic in the high slot. Titanic blasted a one-timer past Jacobson to tie the game at 10:47.
“We just needed to get the energy back,” Oswego’s David Titanic said. “The early goal took a little wind out of our sails.”
Another defensive breakdown resulted in the third goal of the night and gave the Green Knights a 2-1 first period lead at 17:29. Mason Baptista’s shot from the right circle was saved by Hare. The rebound went the other way, where Reid Campbell picked it up. The Oswego defense lost sight of Brandon Hoogenboom deep on the right, and Campbell fed the wide-open Hoogenboom, who easily redirected it into the wide-open near side.
The second period proved to be the key to the game.
“Oswego absolutely took the game back,” Coghlin said. “David made two or three big stops. The only good was we came out plus one in that period. Which was amazing.”
“The turning point was in the second period where we had a couple of power-play opportunities and we were tired and out of sync,” Gosek said. “It’s not that we didn’t score, but I felt we lost momentum off of that. whereas they got the power-play goal and they gained that momentum going into the locker room.”
That power-play goal came at 18:23 of the middle period. Kyle Stroh controlled the puck behind the net and circled out in front, leaving a drop pass for Keefer. From the left slot, Keefer beat Hare for the 3-1 lead.
Keefer finished the game off, as well as completed the hat trick, at 17:07 of the third. He went in on a semi-breakaway, went to his backhand, and beat Hare five-hole.
“It’s Keefer time,” Coghlin said. “It was Keefer time three years ago in the national tournament. It was Keefer time a year ago in the national tournament. And it’s Keefer time again.”
Two years ago, Keefer scored the game-winner with 39 seconds left for St. Norbert against Oswego in the national semifinal.
“He’s a very good player,” Gosek said. “You give a guys like that opportunities to score and they are going to bury. He’s a big player for them, and obviously big players have to come through.”
St. Norbert’s relentless forecheck prevented Oswego from getting anything going.
“I thought St. Norbert played an outstanding game defensively,” Gosek said. “Credit to them. Their coaches do a great job. Great group of players. Their goalie played very well.”
Oswego finishes its season at 24-4-2.
“It’s disappointing, but I am not disappointed in the way we played,” Gosek said. “Our guys played hard, so unlike the last two years where we felt there were some things missing. Not tonight. We got beat by a better team. If you prepare as a champion all season long, they are still champions in my mind even though tonight did not go our way.”
St. Norbert (21-5-5) will have an enjoyable flight home back to Green Bay after perhaps its most satisfying national title.
“This is totally unexpected sitting here at this time, which is why we are most proud to say to our guys, thank you,” Coghlin said.