Reigning national champion Wisconsin-Stevens Point is back in the NCAA tournament, the win-or-go -home portion of the season.
For the Pointers, the feeling of playing in a setting where every game matters is nothing new.
“We have been in playoff mode all year because we don’t have an automatic bid in our league,” Wis.-Stevens Point coach Chris Brooks said. “There is no pressure on us. Pressure comes when you aren’t prepared. When you are prepared, you feel confident and get that adrenaline rush. We’re excited and prepared to play.”
The Pointers (21-4-3) are coming off a win in the WIAC title game last weekend, defeating Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 3-2. They have won eight consecutive games, and are getting set for an NCAA quarterfinal showdown with Adrian next Saturday at home.
While the Pointers have the weekend off in terms of playing a game, rest assured they will be hard at work.
“It is what it is; we’ll have two hard weeks of practice,” Brooks said. “My guys might not like me over the next two weeks, but at the end of the day, I’ll do everything I need to do to give us an opportunity to win and go back to the final four.”
The Pointers have been phenomenal offensively, scoring 123 goals, and they have done it behind a balanced attack. Ten players have scored five or more goals, with Lawrence Cornellier paving the way with 24 goals. Cornellier has dished out 18 assists as well.
Jacob Barber ranks second on the team in scoring, punching in 17 goals and tallying 21 assists. Max Milosek has anchored the defense, winning 18 games and allowing only 53 goals.
What has impressed Brooks the most is the fact that the Pointers have thrived despite losing Eliot Grauer, the MVP of the national tourney last season, to an injury.
“A lot of guys have stepped up and played critical roles,” Brooks said. “We have taken a big step forward. We’re not as talented as some of the other teams in the field, but we’re committed to doing the little things right. We have to be disciplined and be prepared to come in and execute our game plan to the best of our ability. We’re excited about the challenge.”
Adrian will certainly present a challenge. The Bulldogs (19-6-2) are in the tournament for the fifth-consecutive season and the seventh time overall since the program began in 2007.
Adrian comes into the tourney as the Harris Cup runner-up and has won seven consecutive games. It is 1-1-1 against the Pointers this season. The Bulldogs have three players who have tallied 30 or more points on the season, including Cory Dunn, who has scored eight goals and dished out 26 assists
Kyle Brothers has tallied eight goals and 25 assists, while Trevor Boyd has punched in 16 goals to go along with 16 assists. Vincent Paquette is nearly at 30 points for the year, having racked up 14 goals and 15 assists.
Kevin Entmaa has been sensational in goal, winning 14 times and fashioning a 2.14 goals-against average.
“Adrian is extremely talented from top to bottom,” Brooks said. “Their depth is exceptional. They have great special-teams play. Adam (Krug) has done a great job there. They are as good as any team in the country right now.”
Wis.-Stevens Point and Adrian played in the quarterfinals a year ago, with the Pointers earning a 5-2 victory. The Pointers are hoping to repeat history this season.
“I told the guys the other night we have put ourselves in a position where we are three games away from a national championship. There isn’t much else you can ask for,” Brooks said. “We’ll prepare ourselves the best we can to play a great Adrian team.”
Augsburg and St. Norbert will meet in a national quarterfinal next Saturday as well.
The Auggies (17-4-6) are the champions of the MIAC tournament for the second consecutive year and are making their fourth overall appearance in the NCAA tournament. Their hope is to reach the final four for the first time since 1998.
The Green Knights (21-5-1), meanwhile, are hoping to make up for the disappointment of last season when they fell short in their bid to win their fifth national title, falling 5-1 to Wis.-Stevens Point. This is their 17th appearance in program history in the national tourney.
These two teams met a year ago in the quarterfinal round, with St. Norbert cruising to a 6-1 win.
Augsburg is in the midst of its fourth consecutive season with 12 or more wins.
The Auggies enter the tournament hot, losing just once in their last 12 games. They have won seven of those games.
Augsburg has one of the better offenses in the country, scoring 106 goals. Nate Flynn leads the way with 15 goals and 14 assists. Eric Brenk is the team’s top goal scorer, tallying 16. He has dished out seven assists as well.
Corbin Chapman has been impressive as well this year, punching in 11 goals and dishing out 14 assists. Five other players have scored at least five goals for the Auggies.
Nick Schmit leads the defense, winning 10 games and fashioning a 2.01 goals-against average. He has given up just 26 goals this season.
As for the Green Knights, they have won seven of their last eight and are the champions of the Harris Cup.
St. Norbert has scored 103 goals this season and thrives off a balanced attack that features 10 players with five or more goals.
Noah Nelson is the top point scorer for the Green Knights, scoring eight goals and dishing out 19 assists. Tanner Froese has come through with 13 goals and nine assists. Riley Christensen and Roman Uchyn have scored 11 and 10 goals, respectively. Both have tallied nine assists apiece.
Pijus Rulevicius has also risen to the occasion for the Green Knights, scoring five goals to go along with his team-high 17 assists.
T.J. Black gives the Green Knights a chance to win every time they take the ice with his stellar play in goal. The winner of 21 games, Black owns a 1.14 goals-against average and has given up only 21 goals on the season.