LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Short-handed goals are always huge. Perhaps none were larger for St. Norbert than Tanner Froese’s short-hander with 35.3 seconds left in the second period of the NCAA Division III semifinals.
That short-handed goal stopped Colby’s comeback momentum in its tracks and proved to be the game-winner.
The Green Knights defeated Colby, 4-3, thanks to three first-period goals and Froese’s timely tally.
“We certainly had to earn all 60 minutes tonight,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “They’re a good team. They keep coming, they keep coming, they keep coming.”
“To get behind 3-0 to a team like that, I was very proud of how we played for the next 40 minutes,” Colby coach Blaise MacDonald said. “The turning point is probably that short-handed goal at the end of the second.”
“If that didn’t happen, they would have had a lot of momentum going into the third period,” Froese said. “That was not a situation we wanted to be in. I had a chance to make a big play, and lucky enough it went in for me.”
“We had a clean entry into the zone,” MacDonald said. “Then we tried to make a flat pass through a lot of bodies and it hit their guy right in the stomach, which allowed them to transition. I thought we had a decent angle on him. He did a good job penetrating the dots and threw it [backhander] five-hole.”
St. Norbert came out ready to play, scoring twice in the first 2:35.
Roman Uchyn scored from the high slot at 1:18. Dominick Sacco scored from the left side on an almost impossible angle.
Froese scored his first of the game at 11:33 on a niftier play than his short-hander. While falling to the ice, he swatted at the puck, which was enough to beat Sean Lawrence.
“Obviously, it was a big goal,” Froese said. “Coaches stressed tracking pucks.”
Colby mounted their comeback in the last five minutes of the second period, scoring twice within 2:52.
J.P. Schuyler pounced on a fat rebound, one-timing it in from the slot. Cam MacDonald scored on a bad-angle shot of his own from the right side, beating T.J. Black.
“Those are two goals in my mind that can’t happen,” Black said. “But at the end of the day, we are still up 3-2, and you have to lock it down from there. That’s my job. I wouldn’t want to be in any other spot than to lock down the game for our team.”
Then came the fateful short-handed goal, a minute after the Mules went on a power play.
Colby wasn’t ready to give up just yet. Justin Grillo scored at 14:08 of the third period on a slap shot as he crossed the blue line that deflected off a defender’s shin guard.
Once again, it was a one-goal lead. Colby pulled their goalie and just missed on a dangerous deflection. With seconds left, MacDonald was nearly sprung on a breakaway, but the pass was just barely ahead of him to be able to get a handle on it.
T.J. Black made 40 saves for his 26th win for the season, a St. Norbert record.
“Our defense and forwards did a good job keeping their guys on the outside,” Black said. “And when I gave up some rebounds, our D-men cleared them out or our forwards backchecked hard.”
“T.J. has been the backbone of this team for two-and-a-half years now,” Coghlin said. “He’s an All American back-to-back for a reason.”
Colby, which has been on the road for the last six weeks, ends their season at 17-11-2.
St. Norbert (26-4-1) is in their ninth national championship final, tying Middlebury’s record. They will attempt to win their fifth title tomorrow night against Salve Regina.