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St. Norbert works OT for title

March 26, 2018
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - It took 90 minutes and 18 seconds to determine who would be this year's NCAA Division III men's ice hockey champion.

In the final game of the season with the national title on the line, Brad Pung scored the game-winning goal in double overtime to lift St. Norbert to a 3-2 victory over Salve Regina on Saturday at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.

After falling behind 2-0 and rallying with two goals to send the game into extra time, the Seahawks had to settle for a runner-up finish in their school's first final four appearance in any sport. Meanwhile, the Green Knights were able to head back home to De Pere, Wisconsin with their fifth national crown, with three of those coming in championship games played at the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.

Article Photos

Brad Pung of St. Norbert eludes Salve Regina’s Patrick Thompson while firing the game-winning shot over the head of Seahawks goalie Blake Wojtala during the second overtime period of Saturday’s NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey championship game at the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.
(News photo — Lou Reuter)

Coming into Saturday's final, it was questionable whether Pung, who center's the Green Knights' first line, was even going to play after he broke a finger the night before in St. Norbert's 4-3 semifinal victory over Colby. Instead of watching from the stands while his teammates battled for the DIII title, Pung clinched the crown for the Green Knights when he took a drop pass from Tanner Froese and wristed a shot from the right faceoff circle over the head of Salve Regina goalie Blake Wojtala.

The winning shot was the 50th of the game that the Green Knights fired at Wojtala, a junior from Trenton, Michigan who set a NCAA Division III record the night before when he posted a 55-save shutout in the Seahawks 3-0 semifinal win over Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

After the game, Pung said he had no doubts that he would be on the ice.

"I had it in my mind from the time I woke up I was playing this game," Pung said at the post-game press conference. "I honestly didn't know what happened. I just know that Tanner was flying up that right side and I just started screaming for the puck. I knew I had an open shot, he put it right on my tape, and I think I closed my eyes and hoped for the best - game-winner, a dream come true."

"Brad Pung is sitting before you with a broken finger and stitches on both sides," St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin said. "It happened in last night's game. He was a questionable scratch coming into tonight's game. I had an extra forward dressed for warmups because we weren't sure."

St. Norbert was the nation's highest Division III seed entering the final, and the Green Knights got off to a good start by building a 2-0 edge. They grabbed a one-goal lead when Dominick Sacco score the lone goal of the first with just 1:29 remaining in the period, and then upped their edge to 2-0 on a power-play goal by Luke Davison at the 12:25 mark of the second. Davison's tally game midway through a 5-minute span that saw Salve Regina's Danny Eruzione sitting in the box after a controversial major penalty for boarding, which meant the Seahawks were still looking at killing off more time while they were a man down.

But instead of folding, the Seahawks proved to be resilient as they came through with a shorthanded goal by Cameron Russo at the 13:30 mark to cut St. Norbert's lead to 2-1.

In a back-and-forth battle the rest of the way, Salve Regina tied the game on the only goal of the third, which came off the stick of Paul Boutoussov with 9:25 remaining in regulation.

After being outshot 15-4 in the second period, the Seahawks turned it on during the third and the first overtime. They finished with a 13-9 edges in shots on goal in the third period, and then fired another 14 shots on net during the first 20 minutes of sudden-death play. But in the second overtime, the Green Knights turned the tables, outshooting the Seahawks 10-3, with their final attempt going into the net off the stick of Pung.

St. Norbert did have the best opportunity to win in the first sudden-death period when Davison found himself free in the slot and received a pass and ripped a slapshot that created a ring off the post that most of those gathered in the Olympic Center could hear.

"Hat's off the Salve for the season they've had," Coghlin said. "They have a lot of young, high-end, stick-skilled, high-speed talent. That's an impressive group.

"When you get to overtime - one overtime, two overtimes - you just have and believe in the process in terms of what you do and these guys did. They kind of stuck with exactly who we've been all year."

Froese, a senior from Estevan, Saskatchewan, assisted on all three St. Norbert goals Saturday and also found the back of the net twice before to lead his team past Colby. In addition to capping off his career with a national crown, Froese was named the final four tournament's most valuable player.

Junior T.J. Black earned the win in nets for St. Norbert with a 41-save performance. Wojtala recorded 47 saves, which gave him a total of 102 stops in two games on the way to being named the tournament's outstanding goalie.

After the post-game press conference, Coghlin, who has led the Green Knights program since 1993, pulled out a piece of paper and began reading some notes he jotted down during the contest.

"There's always moments of truth in every single game. I started writing them down," Coghlin said. "A moment of truth in the beginning on a penalty kill was TJ Black made three unbelievable stops that could have been in the net and gone the other way. Another moment of truth in the first was Dom Sacco gets one chance and boom were up 1-0, and that just continued all the way through. You saw the power-play goal from Luke Davison. ... He shoots the puck well and he got it through, and that was a moment of truth. There' no feeling out there in the world than when you're a player and you hoist the national championship."

The Green Knights finished their season with 26-4-1 record. The weekend marked their fifth trip to the final four in Lake Placid, where they also won the title in 2008, which was their first national crown, and in 2012.

The Seahawks, whose college is located in Newport, Rhode Island, finished their season with 22-6-2 record under their first-year head coach Zech Klann.

"Double overtime game in a national championship, this was the game that everybody came to see and was watching back home," Klann said. "Two great teams went at it tonight on a big stage, and if you got to go out, you go out swinging. It took two periods of overtime to get through it. It was a very fun game to be a part of.

"In all the years I've been playing, I've never seen a team this close," Klann added. "These guys, they're down and hurting now, but they're going home with something they're going to learn for the rest of their lives. They really came together as a family this year. I'm really proud of them for getting to this tournament and to the final game."



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