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Opportunistic Salve Regina make most of final four debut

March 23, 2018
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Appearing in their school's first final four in any sport, Salve Regina's hockey players faced an unbelievable barrage by the Wisconsin-Stevens Point Pointers during the first period of Friday's NCAA Division III men's ice hockey semifinal game at the Olympic Center.

But not only did the Seahawks survive an early onslaught that saw them outshot 16-0 at one point in the game, they came through with a 3-0 victory to advance to tonight's championship game at the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.

The Seahawks will take on top-seed St. Norbert, which defeated Colby 4-3 in Friday's second matchup.

Article Photos

Salve Regina goalie Blake Wojtala steers aside a puck while pressured by a Wisconsin-Stevens Point skater during Friday’s NCAA Division III semifinal game at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. Wojtala set a Division III postseason record with a 55-save shutout performance.
(News photo — Lou Reuter)

Despite being outshot 55-21, Salve Regina was the opportunistic team in the first semifinal, turning a turnover into a goal in the first period, burying a power-play tally in the second period and then clinching the win with an empty-net goal with the clock winding down.

The Seahawks also got a record-setting performance in goal by Blake Wojtala. The junior from Trenton, Michigan stopped all 55 shots he faced, which established a new DIII men's hockey championship tournament mark for saves posted while earning a shutout in the playoff round.

Erik Udahl scored the Seahawks first two goals and Danny Philbrick sent home the empty-netter with 2:28 remaining in the third period to make it a 3-0 final.

In a way, the matchup was a David versus Goliath scenario. Wisconsin-Stevens Point has been a mainstay in the NCAA tournament while capturing five national titles, most recently two years ago when the final four was last held in Lake Placid. Meanwhile, Salve Regina was making its first appearance in the tournament, and didn't put its first shot on goal until 6:16 remained in the opening period.

"They took it to us the first 10 minutes of the game," Salve Regina head coach Zech Klann said. "They came at us full force and slanted the ice. I'm really proud the way the guys stuck together and battled it out shift by shift."

The Pointers finished the first 20 minutes of play with a 23-3 advantage in shots on net, but paid dearly for a turnover that led the the Seahawks first goal scored by Udahl with 1:25 remaining in the period. On the play, a Wisconsin Steven-Point defender coughed up the puck at his own blue line, Udahl scooped it up, skated in all alone on Pointers' goalie Max Milosek and wristed a shot into the net. Udahl, a freshman from East Walpole, Massachusetts, made it 2-0 in favor of the Seahawks on a power-play goal at the 13:50 mark of the second period. On the play, Udahl buried a wrist shot from the right face off circle while Milosek was screened by Colin Clapton, who was perched at the top of the crease. Pat Thompson and Nick Cyr assisted on the goal.

The Seahawks closed the gap slightly in shots on goal in the second, with the Pointers holding an 11-9 edge during the period. In the third, Wisconsin-Stevens Point turned it on again, firing 20 pucks at Wojtala, who was up to the task in keeping the Pointers off the scoreboard.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point played the final three minutes of the game with Milosek pulled from nets in favor of an extra attacker but came up empty. The Seahawks sealed the deal when John McClean gained control of the puck in his team's end of the rink, sent a pass up the middle of the ice to a streaking Philbrick, who skated the puck right into the net for the game's final goal.

Milosek finished with 18 saves playing in his final game for the Pointers.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point ended its season with a 21-6-3 record.

The Seahawks improved to 22-5-2 and will face St. Norbert for the national crown tonight at the Olympic Center against the Green Knights with the opening faceoff slated for 7 p.m.



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