UTICA, N.Y. — Trinity’s Sam Johnson scored zero goals this season. Until tonight.
Johnson’s goal at 18:26 of the second period proved to be the winner in the Division III national semifinal game as Trinity defeated St. Norbert, 3-2, to send the Bantams to their second national championship game in three years.
“I saw Ty (Whitney) go around the net,” Johnson said. “I shouted for the puck. He found me pretty easy. I put it in the net short side.”
Johnson jumped into the play from his right defensive position when the sea parted on his side, leaving him wide open.
“I don’t know what it was that drew guys away from me,” he said.
Johnson ended up with the puck above the dot, wound up, and blasted a shot over St. Norbert goalie T.J. Black’s glove.
“The third goal was a bit of a back breaker,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “They jammed the wall nicely. They make the goal line play. We got sloppy in the D-zone and lost our positioning and had no response coming to the puck.”
This gave Trinity the 3-2 lead, which they had to hold on to for the entire third period.
“That’s a very good hockey team we were fortunate to beat,” Trinity coach Matt Greason said. “We bent and bent, but didn’t break.”
“The game was what we expected,” Coghlin said. “Trinity is an extremely good transitional team. It ended up being more of a transition game than a cycle game, which we would have preferred. The transition game is more Trinity’s game.”
The Green Knights scored first 13 minutes into the game when Jeremy Olinyk picked up a loose puck at the blue line, skated straight into the right slot, and put it by Alex Morin.
Just over four minutes later, Trinity tied it on a power play. A quick cross-ice pass by Ryan Cole from right to left found Anthony Sabitsky open in the left circle, and his one-timer easily found the back of the net.
The teams traded goals in the first half of the second period. This time it was Trinity scoring first when Ethan Holdaway one-timed a cross-crease pass from the backdoor.
St. Norbert tied it on its one and only power play when Pijus Rulevicius banged it home from in front.
Shortly after that goal, St. Norbert committed two successive penalties that overlapped by 21 seconds. Though Trinity came close, they could not capitalize.
“People think if you don’t score on a five-on-three, it’s a failure,” Greason said. “However, we had a great chance.”
On the flip side, the Green Knights were unable to take advantage of the potential momentum boost.
“You’d like to see a push at that point,” admitted Coghlin. “Just to keep them off the scoreboard is important, too.”
The free-flowing, fast-paced, and, at times, hard-hitting game was an entertaining affair. The last five minutes saw St. Norbert apply extreme pressure, and with their goalie pulled with 1:38 to play, the Green Knights nearly squeezed the tying goal in a few times.
“We knew they were going to come on in the last five minutes,” Greason said.
Morin made 34 saves for the win, including some spectacular ones, but it’s Johnson’s rare goal everyone will remember.
Coghlin said, “Honestly, we’ve been on the other side of that. Guys like that who are your heart and soul and step up and score a goal like that says a lot about your hockey team. Hats off to Mr. Johnson, to Matt, and all the Trinity staff.”
The senior has now scored three goals in his entire career. When asked if this one he will remember most, Johnson said, “I remember all my goals.”