In their first ever NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey championship, and in their league’s last ever season, the Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds from the NCHA are the 2013 national champions.
They completed the task with a come-from-behind victory over the Oswego State Lakers, 5-3.
“Obviously, a good game, back and forth,” Eau Claire coach Matt Loen said. “I was a little nervous there getting behind the eight ball, 2-0. We’ve had a couple of games earlier this year where we struggled to score goals, and I was hoping tonight wasn’t going to be that night.”
“Credit to them; they’re a very good team,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “They beat us to the majority of loose pucks in our own end. They’re fast, they’re strong, they’re physical. The first 10 minutes set the tone. Then we got a little life, got a little jump. We were tentative. They are very good. What we were able to do against Norwich, they were able to do against us in transition.”
It was scoreless midway through the first period, and then the floodgates opened. Oswego scored twice in a 31-second span, only to have Eau Claire chip away to tie it before the period ended.
Bobby Gertsakis led it off at 10:44 just as an Eau Claire penalty expired when he jumped on a rebound off a Luke Moodie shot to bury it over a sprawled goalie from the side of the crease.
“Great job by McConney, great tip by Moodie,” Gertsakis said.
Chris Muise made it 2-0 in quick fashion. Chris Brown brought the puck into the zone down the right side, passing it across to Muise skating down the slot, who easily fired it past Stephenson.
“I just gave a quick pass to ‘Brownie,'” Muise said. “I drew the defender wide there. He slid it back to me. Fortunately, I was able to tee it off.”
“It’s happened before where we were down two goals,” Stephenson said. “We responded quickly after that.”
Eau Claire refused to fold, and their efforts paid off at 14:25 when Jordan Singer put the Blugolds on the scoreboard during a power play. He fired a wrist shot from the left point which sailed past Andrew Hare.
Eau Claire continued to apply the pressure, andAndrew Wilcox tied it up with 53.6 seconds left in the opening stanza from in front after the puck took an odd bounce off the boards behind the net right onto his tape.
Daniel Olszewski gave the Blugolds their first lead of the game at 6:29 of the second period. Eau Claire outnumbered Oswego down low as Wilcox got off a shot. Hare left a fat rebound the other way, and Olszewski was right there to put it into the open near side.
“With two, three guys crashing the net, a rebound will be there,” Olszewski said. “I just followed up and the rebound was right there. I had an open net, and I was sure glad I didn’t miss it.”
Eau Claire maintained the style they wanted to play against Oswego, though the Lakers did get their chances, none more so when they had a two-man advantage, but missed on open nets, either by fanning on their shots or shooting it wide.
“We had a great penalty kill all year,” tournament Most Outstanding Player Singer said. “To kill off that five-on-three was a big deal. We really took that and ran with it.”
After Paul Rodrigues missed an unmissable opportunity, the period ended 3-2.
Devin Mantha put the dagger in Oswego, taking advantage of a pressing Lakers team. Jared Williams at center ice saw a streaking Mantha splitting the defenders at the blue line. Williams fed him with a perfect pass to send Mantha in on the breakaway, and he slipped the puck between Hare’s legs at 7:20.
Oswego didn’t give in, cutting the lead with 10 minutes left. Gertsakis, after receiving a pass from Muise, fired a shot from the right point which deflected off a defender’s leg, fooling Stephenson.
“Chris Muise, I give all the credit to there,” Gertsakis said. “It went through guys there as I just put it on net.”
However, Eau Claire hung on and clinched the game with Kurt Weston’s empty-net tally, giving the NCHA it’s third consecutive national championship.
“We brought in skill this year and scoring,” Loen said. “We’ve always been strong defensively. That was the difference this year. A great accomplishment for our program and all the guys in that locker room. They worked hard.”