LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — St. Norbert spotted the first timers from Massachusetts-Boston a three-goal lead and then answered with a six goal second period before yielding four unanswered Beacons goals in the third period on their way to a 8-7 double-overtime win that advanced them to Saturday night’s championship game against Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“That was the craziest game I have ever been a part of,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “Roller coaster is the right description and I am just happy that we found an answer at the end when both teams had some great chances.”
Just under four minutes into the second overtime period, Noah Nelson took a home run pass from Steven Phillips and went in alone on a breakaway. Beacons goaltender Zach Andrews tried to poke check Nelson and did deflect the puck but the momentum of Nelson and Andrews sliding back toward the goal took the puck across the goal line for the game winner.
“I might have had too much time to think about what I was going to do,” said Nelson. “Coach has been on me to shoot more since I like to pass a bit too much so I was thinking shoot and didn’t really get it off but it found its way in. It was such a great feeling and relief to be able to go sit down.”
The ending stunned both teams and while no replay was available, the goal was confirmed on the ice and both teams finished their epic battle with the traditional handshake line at center ice.
After surrendering two goals in the first four minutes of the first period that saw starting goalie Tony Kujava replaced by TJ Black and another at the seven-minute mark by Matt Lemire, the Green Knights faced a daunting three-goal deficit.
Then with just 0.7 seconds remaining in the period, Phillips found a loose puck among several players’ skates and fired a last-second shot past goalie Billy Faust’s blocker to close the deficit to 3-1.
“That goal was really big for us,” said senior captain Erik Cooper. “Anytime you can get a goal in the final minute it helps going into the next period. We knew the first five minutes of the game were going to be really important and we pretty much failed that test miserably so we knew we needed to step it up. We got the power play going and really played a good period.”
The second period went all the Knights’ way as they scored six times, including three power-play goals and a pair of goals each from Pijus Rulevicius and defenseman Blake Thompson.
The two goals from Rulevicius again showcased the Green Knights playing right to the buzzer as he scored twice in the final minute to extend the lead to four goals, and that is all the Knights thought they would need to advance.
“Maybe we took our foot off the gas a little in the third period,” Thompson said.
Or as Coghlin noted: “Maybe they just stepped on the pedal a little harder in the third period than we did.”
The Beacons comeback began with John Bonno’s goal just 2:11 into the third period. Matt Lemire added his second of the night with an assist from Bonno, and Brett Mason closed the lead to just one with over four minutes remaining.
The barrage from the blue line continued with just over a minute remaining when Tyler Bishop scored the tying goal on another shot from the point that found its way through bodies in front and past Black to send the game to overtime.
The Beacons also benefited from the play of senior goaltender Andrews, who came in to start the third period in relief of starter Faust and made several big saves among the 22 shots he saw in the third period and first overtime.
“I went into the locker room and said, do we want to get on the bus now or do we want to fight?” Beacons coach Peter Belisle said. “They said they wanted to fight and I couldn’t be more proud of this team and the way they fought back. They just never quit and we came all the way back and we didn’t have to pull the goalie.”
“We got that big goal from John [Bonno] to start the third period,” said defenseman Brett Mason. “That had us believing in our cadence of getting one every five minutes to come back. We knew we could do it but just wish we could have finished one more of our chances.”
The Green Knights moved on to face Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the championship game on Saturday night. They beat the Pointers handily last November at the start of the season.
“The team we played last fall and the team you saw tonight against Geneseo are remotely close to the same team,” said Coghlin. “They probably have the best group of forwards in the country and are getting great play from their freshman goaltender. We need to go get some rest and be ready to play tomorrow against an experienced team that appears to be on a mission in their third Frozen Four final in a row.”
• St. Norbert and Massachusetts-Boston matched even in All-American recognition with two players announced Friday from each squad. St. Norbert’s Erik Cooper was named first team for the West while Matt Lemire of Massachusetts-Boston earned the same honor in the East.
• Defensemen Thompson of the Green Knights and Tyler Bishop from the Beacons both earned second-team recognition in the West and East, respectively.
• The last Boston-area team to win the Division III national title was Babson in 1984. Babson is UMass-Boston’s travel partner and the team the Beacons defeated for the NEHC title to earn their way into their first NCAA tournament.
• The Frozen Four semifinal was the first meeting between St. Norbert and Massachusetts-Boston.
• Faust entered the game with a 156:35 goalless streak dating to the second period of the NEHC championship game, which was decided in overtime. The streak was ended with 0.7 seconds left in the first period against St. Norbert, leaving the total at 176:34.
• Thirteen 13 of 15 goals in the game were scored at the end with the Zamboni doors. Only St. Norbert’s first goal in the final second of the first period and the game winner were scored at the other end.
• Mike Thompson from Massachusetts-Boston found Nelson after the handshake at center ice to give him the puck used on the winning goal.
• Official attendance for the semifinals was 2,282.