Lakers lose to St. Norbert in NCAA finals

Jessica Bagdovitz | The Oswegonian

After an exhilarating overtime victory over Amherst College in the NCAA Semifinals, the Oswego State men’s ice hockey team fell short of capturing its second national championship, losing to St. Norbert College, 4-1, on Saturday night in the NCAA Championship at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y.

St. Norbert junior forward Cody Keefer netted a hat trick, including a breakaway goal with 2:53 remaining in the third period to seal the Green Knights’ second consecutive national title. Keefer has been a Laker killer during his career, as he scored the game-winning goal in the final minute of the 2010 NCAA Semifinals to eliminate Oswego State.

“He’s a very good player,” Oswego State head coach Ed Gosek said. “If you give a guy like that opportunities to score, he’s going to bury it. He’s a big player for them and in big games big players have to come through.”

Keefer gave St. Norbert the early lead just 17 seconds into the first period. Junior defenseman Jesse McConney attempted to corral a loose puck near the defensive blue line, but Keefer gained possession and wristed a shot past junior goaltender Andrew Hare glove side.

“You don’t think about a hat trick, but it’s your job to put pucks in the net,” Keefer said.

“He’s one of the most critical guys on his game and on himself, yet this is the time of the year that I’ve been calling ‘Keefer Time,’” St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin said of Keefer. “It was ‘Keefer Time’ three years ago in the national tournament. It was ‘Keefer Time’ in last year’s national tournament. And it’s ‘Keefer Time’ again.”

The Lakers took advantage of one of St. Norbert’s rare mistakes to tie the game. Junior forward Chris Brown intercepted a pass from St. Norbert’s Mason Baptista in front of the Green Knight net. Brown fed a pass to sophomore forward David Titanic, who wristed a shot over the glove-side shoulder of goaltender David Jacobson at 10:47 of the first period.

“They gave what they had,” Gosek said. “They battled. We didn’t have the same jump in energy that we did against Amherst, but they continued to work and try and held together.”

The Green Knights recaptured the lead at 17:29 of the first period. Reid Campbell threw a cross-ice pass across the crease that found Brandon Hoogenboom alone in front of the net. Hoogenboom tapped the puck into the open net for what would be the game-winning goal.

Keefer took control of the game in the final two periods, scoring a goal each period to complete the hat trick. The Green Knights took a two-goal lead in the final minutes of the second period on the only power-play goal of the game. Following an interference penalty to junior forward Chris Ayotte, St. Norbert’s Johan Ryd circled behind the Laker net before feeding a pass to Keefer, who took a second to collect the puck on his stick before wristed a shot past Hare.

Keefer delivered the championship dagger at 17:07 of the third period. Carl Ekstrom delivered a pass along the sideboards that got behind junior defenseman Tim Carr, serving as the last line of defense, and onto Keefer’s stick. Keefer fought off Carr’s forecheck en route to the net and backhanded a shot past Hare to seal the victory.

“They’re still champions in my mind,” Gosek said. “Tonight, it didn’t go our way, but St. Norbert played an outstanding game defensively.”

The Lakers were unable to generate any offense on the power play, finishing 0-for-6. Oswego State had two instances where they had back-to-back power plays separated by nine and 15 seconds. The Lakers registered seven shots on net over the course of the four power plays, but were unable to put the puck past Jacobson.

Hare finished the game with 21 saves on 25 shots faced, while Jacobson finished with 29 saves on 30 shots faced. Jacobson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow but that’s the nature of the game,” Gosek said. “It’s a game of emotion. Tonight we got beat by a better team.”

With the victory, the Green Knights have a strong case to be considered a Division III ice hockey dynasty. In the last five years, St. Norbert has made it to the championship game four times, winning the past two, as well as the 2008 title. They finished as runners-up in 2010 to Norwich University. St. Norbert has appeared in seven of the last 10 NCAA Frozen Fours.

Despite the loss in the NCAA National Championship, the Lakers won their first NCAA Semifinal since 2007, defeating Amherst, 2-1, in overtime on junior forward Paul Rodrigues’ heroics 7:20 into the extra period.

Rodrigues, who scored both of last year’s overtime goals for the Lakers, received a pass from center ice by junior forward Tyler Leimbrock at the offensive blue line. Rodrigues got behind Amherst’s Jeremy Deutsch and skated in on net on the breakaway, deking goaltender Jonathan La Rose before lifting a backhander that ricocheted off La Rose’s stick and into the back of the net for the victory.

“I faked the goalie and kind of lost the angle, but luckily I was able to get the shot off and tuck it into the net,” Rodrigues said.

In a matchup of the top three offenses, Oswego State and Amherst played scoreless hockey for the first 40 minutes. The Lakers broke the scoreless tie at 10:26 of the third period on senior forward Ian Boots’ wrist shot from the left faceoff circle that beat La Rose glove side.

Oswego State tried to hang on for dear life in the period’s final minute, but Amherst managed to tie the game with just 22 seconds left after pulling La Rose in favor of the extra attacker. Amherst’s Johnny Van Siclen fired a shot on net that caused a mad scramble in front. The puck landed on Eddie Effinger’s stick and he slapped a shot into the net to give the Lord Jeffs second life.

In a game that the Lakers needed a great performance out of Hare, he responded with a career-high 43 saves, including three in the overtime period to keep the Lakers’ title hopes alive. La Rose finished with 25 saves.

Boots was the only Laker named to the 2012 NCAA All-Tournament Team.

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