LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — When David Jacobson arrived at St. Norbert’s Depere, Wis. campus last fall to begin his freshman season, he was head coach Tim Coghlin’s third choice to succeed departed senior All-American B.J. O’Brien in goal for the defending Division III men’s hockey national champions.
For the third consecutive year and the sixth time in nine years, St. Norbert will play for the national championship. The No. 5 Green Knights beat top-ranked Norwich on Friday in Lake Placid.
Early in the season, however, it became clear to Coghlin that Jacobson, a freshman from Janesville, Wis. was going to be his man between the pipes.
“David Jacobson was not the starting goaltender,” Coghlin said. “As a matter of fact, he got the third situation reps at the beginning of the year. He just bit his tongue, stayed positive, stayed patient, worked as hard as he could and what ultimately evolved in his world is that he’s a highly competitive, highly motivated, very athletic young man. When he got his opportunity, he said, ‘Thank you very much, that’ll be it for everybody else.’”
Friday at Herb Brooks Arena, it was Coghlin doing the thanking, because it was Jacobson who was primarily responsible for St. Norbert’s opportunity to defend its national title Saturday night.
Jacobson’s stellar performance in goal was the spark that the Green Knights needed in their 4-1 national semifinal victory against Norwich. In all, Jacobson, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound freshman, stonewalled 26 of the Cadets’ 27 shots and kept the top-seeded team off the scoreboard until the closing minutes — when the Green Knights had built up a comfortable three-goal edge.
St. Norbert’s freshman netminder was nearly unflappable for most of the night, making several daring saves to weather a an early-first period flurry from Norwich, then turning in his best work to keep the Green Knights (20-5-5) in front with some spectacular saves in the final 20 minutes — the best a sprawling, one-handed effort to deny Norwich’s Kyle Thomas on a shorthanded breakaway two minutes into the final stanza.
And, Jacobson said, he managed it without having to fight off many pregame butterflies in his stomach.
“I try to stay away from that,” he said. “I try to look at like any other game, try to say cool and calm.”
There was no problem with that Friday night, even as a dangerous Norwich (24-3-2) squad that entered championship weekend averaging 4.72 goals per game buzzed around Jacobson’s crease in the opening minutes. Once Jacobson parried away a couple of early opportunities — a close-range effort from Blake Forkey and two point-blank power play stops in succession against Travis Janke — things started to settle down.
“They had a couple of good opportunities early, but I made a couple of saves,” said Jacobson, who came to St. Norbert as a four-sport letterman and all-state hockey performer at Janesville Parker High School and a junior standout for his hometown Janesville Jets of the North American Hockey League. “Then, we started rallying and turned things around.”
Then, as the Green Knights forged ahead, getting a first-period power-play goal from Joe Perry and a nifty second-period score from freshman Chris Rial, Norwich simply couldn’t find any holes in Jacobson’s armor.
Though it left Norwich head coach Mike McShane frustrated as his team was unable to repeat its victory against St. Norbert in the national championship game two years ago in Lake Placid, he couldn’t help by applaud Jacobson’s work in the crease.
“Their goalie came up with big saves at the right time,” said McShane.
The biggest time of all came minutes into the third period, thanks to a stop that will certainly linger in both Jacobson and Thomas’ minds for a long time to come. With Norwich’s Bryce Currier off for slashing two minutes into the frame, a gaffe on the power play sent Thomas streaking into the St. Norbert zone shorthanded, with just Jacobson in between him and cutting the deficit in half.
“Really, there you’re just not thinking, you’re just trying to react,” Jacobson said. “I tried to get him with a poke check and he got right around it, so it was kind of a desperation save there. I just threw everything I could at it.”
What Jacobson threw was his left hand, blindly behind the rest of his sprawling body, and Thomas was unable to slip the puck past or over it.
“That’s why I said David is highly competitive and highly athletic,” Coghlin said. “You saw both of those situations manifest themselves at that time. To me, that’s a turning point in the game right there.”
Turns out, Coghlin was right. A little more than a minute later, Currier took another penalty — this one for tripping — which led directly to Seth Soley’s power-play score off of a deflection from a Marian Fiala rocket from the point with 15:04 to play.
That sequence made it possible for the Green Knights to breathe easy, even after St. Norbert’s lone defensive lapse — when Jacobson left a rebound on the doorstep for Forkey to slam home on a 4-on-3 power play in the waning minutes — and a slew of penalties as the game got chippy down the stretch.
“I was seeing everything pretty good,” Jacobson said. “A lot of perimeter shots, not too much traffic in front.”
Friday, it was Jacobson who rose to the occasion, like so many of the Green Knights’ younger players have as a St. Norbert team with just three seniors on its roster has charged to the national championship game over the latter half of the season.
“We fought through a lot of adversity and adverse situations this year,” Coghlin said. “This team continued to get better and better and better. At one point after Christmas break, we were 7-4-4 and I don’t know if anybody saw us in this situation.”
Not coincidentally, the start of the Golden Knights’ 13-1-1 surge came right around the time when Coghlin gave Jacobson the full-time nod in goal.
“From that point, the team really solidified itself,” Coghlin said.