LAKE PLACID - Gustavus Adolphus and Neumann College will be playing for the NCAA Division III men's hockey title tonight after both teams earned dramatic victories in semifinal games Friday at the Olympic Center.
In a doubleheader at the Herb Brooks 1980 Arena, Gustavus Adolphus opened the evening with a 3-2 overtime victory over Wisconsin-Stout and Neumann followed by blanking Hobart College 2-0 in the second game. The wins posted by both teams could be considered upsets, and the Golden Gusties and the Knights now have the chance to etch their schools' names in collegiate hockey history when they square off for the national championship starting at 5 p.m.
"It's two teams, two schools that haven't been on the national platform. Someone will be there tomorrow night," said Neumann head coach Dominick Dawes, whose Knights rode the spectacular shutout goaltending of Ross MacKinnon into tonight's title tilt.
Neumann players celebrate the game-winning goal notched late in the third period by Matt Ward.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
MacKinnon, a freshman from Manchester, Conn., was unbeatable against the Statesmen in a contest that remained scoreless until Matt Ward tipped in the winning goal with 8:44 remaining in the third period. Lincoln Schrock then iced the victory for the Knights when he sent home an empty-netter with 40 seconds left on the clock.
Hobart outshot Neumann in all three periods and held a 36-24 advantage in shots during the game but couldn't find a way to put the puck past MacKinnon, who gave up four goals a week ago during his team's 5-4 upset victory over SUNY Plattsburgh, which was the nation's top-ranked Division III hockey squad at the time.
"When you play good hockey and when you play your game, you hope that the bounces will go your way," said Hobart head coach Mark Taylor. "I think we did what we needed to do; it just wasn't meant to be."
After withstanding plenty of pressure for most of the contest, Neumann took the lead for good when Ward skated toward the net and one-timed a pass from Kyle Casey past Hobart goalie Keith Longo at the 11:16 mark of the final period. Trailing 1-0 and with the clock winding down, the Statesmen pulled Longo from the game and Schrock made them pay when he skated in alone and flipped the puck in the empty net to seal the deal.
"We didn't have many chances, but we capitalized in the end," Dawes said. "We just kept plugging. I'll say it was his (MacKinnon's) best game, but he's had plenty of good games along the way. Ross played great, and we played very well in our own end. Our defense did a good job in front of him not allowing second and third chances."
The meeting was the fifth this season between ECAC West rivals Neumann and Hobart, with each team winning twice before Friday's semifinal matchup.
Hobart finished the season with an overall 21-7-2 record, while Neumann improved to 20-9-2 overall.
The team with the better record also fell in Friday's first semifinal game when Gustavus Adolphus junior forward Patrick Dynan scored 6:31 into overtime to lift the Golden Gusties past the Blue Devils. Wisconsin-Stout headed into the game with a 23-5-2 mark, but found itself playing catch-up after a scoreless opening period. Gustavus Adolphus grabbed one-goal leads on two occasions in regulation, taking the initial edge when Dynan opened the scoring 5:32 into the middle stanza. Joel Gaulrapp evened the score at 1-1 when he answered at the 11:45 mark of the second period for Wisconsin-Stout, but Eric Bigham sent home a puck less than three minutes later to put the Gusties back into a 2-1 lead.
Scott Motz netted the only goal of the third period, scoring for the Blue Devils with 5:26 remaining in regulation to send the contest into overtime. The Blue Devils got off four shots on goal in the extra session before Dynan scored the game-winner on a shot from the left faceoff circle that deflected off the stick of a defender and got by Wisconsin-Stout goalie Matt Koenig.
Matthew Lopes started in nets for the Gusties and played the first two periods but didn't return for the third stanza after suffering an injury. Josh Swartout took over netminding duties for Gustavus Adolphus in the third period and during overtime. The Gusties held a 38-34 edge in shots on goal in the game. Lopes made 18 saves during 40 minutes of action, while Swartout stopped 14 shots during his 26:31 stint in the crease. Koenig made 35 saves in a losing effort between the pipes for the Blue Devils.
"We are very fortunate to have two good goaltenders," said Gusties head coach Brett Petersen, whose team improved to 19-10-0 overall. "Those were proud moments for me to be involved in a game like that with another western team."
"I am disappointed and very proud," said Wisconsin-Stout head coach Terry Watkins. "We had a great season. Being on a stage like this is all new to us. You could see the nerves. You just don't walk into a game like this and play your best. Next time, we will know what it feels like.
"Coming to a national tournament like this, this is the kind of game you want," Watkins added. "If the score was 6 or 7 to 1, that wouldn't have been fun. A 3-2 overtime game is good for everyone. This has been a tremendous educational and athletic experience for our kids."