LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Wisconsin-Eau Claire may have been in uncharted territory, but Jordan Singer stayed calm the entire way – and when the Blugolds needed a spark, their senior captain and All-American was always there to provide it.
Singer earned Most Oustanding Player honors for the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championships, scoring the Blugolds’ first goal in Saturday’s championship game against Oswego State, then assisting on Daniel Olszewski’s go-ahead goal that spurred UW-Eau Claire onto it’s first national championship.
But, more than his scoring punch, Singer provided perfect timing. In both the semifinals against Utica and the final against Oswego State, the Blugolds fell behind – and it was Singer who sparked the Blugolds’ comeback victories by scoring his team’s first goal in each game.
Friday night against Utica, just three minutes after Louis Educate had put the Pioneers on top 1-0, Singer slipped a backhander through traffic to tie the game – and the Blugolds took the lead for good just 22 seconds later.
Saturday night, after UW-Eau Claire spotted Oswego State a two-goal lead midway through the first period, Singer again ignited his team with a power play tally to set off a stretch of four consecutive goals to put the Blugolds in the driver’s seat.
“I try to feed off of it, and our team really fed off it this weekend,” Singer said. “We got down, but our bench stayed really positive and that’s the kind of attitude you’ve got to have out there. You’ve got to keep going to the net.”
Both UW-Eau Claire head coach Matt Loen and goaltender Brandon Stephenson acknowledged that the Blugolds had to adjust after the Lakers’ early flurry to take a 2-0 lead during a 31-second stretch in the first period.
|DIII MEN’S HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP|
Championship: UW-Eau Claire wins NCAA title
Feature: Singer leads Blugolds to victory
Semis: UW-Eau Claire advances to first final
Semis: Muise leads Oswego St. to title match
|Semis Preview: Two rooks, two vets, one title|
|Brackets: Interactive | Printable|
|More: Championship Info | History|
“I was a little nervous there, getting behind the eight-ball, 2-0,” Loen said. “We’ve had some games this year where we’ve struggled to score goals, and I was hoping tonight wasn’t gonna be that night.”
“It’s happened before, earlier in the season when we get down two goals – especially with teams like [St. Norbert] that get ahead of us,” Stephenson said. “With the team we have, I trust my forwards and my defense in front of me. We don’t really get rattled.”
When Singer got the Blugolds on the board with a wrist shot from just inside the point that evaded Oswego State goalie Andrew Hare, he could feel the momentum swing when he got back to the bench.
“When I got that first one, the feeling on the bench was great,” he said.
After the Blugolds tied the game in the final minute of the first period, Singer was instrumental in putting his team in front for good 6:29 into the second, as it was his shot from the slot that resulted in the rebound Olszewski was able to tap past Hare for a 3-2 lead.
“Singer loves to shoot the puck – we all know that,” Olszewski said, drawing a chuckle for Singer, who was sitting just to his left. “I just followed it up back door, hoping it would come out and there would be a rebound waiting for me.”
The assist stood as the 100th – and final – point of Singer’s collegiate career, but later in the second it was his calming energy rather than his timely scoring that kept the Blugolds on point during a 40-second 5-on-3 penalty kill that sapped the Lakers’ energy.
“We’ve had a good penalty kill all year,” Singer said. “We’ve had a few times of killing off a 5-on-3, and it’s a huge momentum booster for any team.”
For seniors like Singer and Stephenson, Saturday night’s championship triumph was a incredible, career-capping reward for a senior class that turned UW-Eau Claire from a team that hadn’t reached the NCAA Division III tournament for 24 years into first-time national champions.
“A lot of us have been together for so long, and we trust each other,” Stephenson said. “It’s more than on-ice chemistry, it’s off-ice as well. Off the ice, we’re best friends with each other. I think when we’re on the ice and the chips aren’t falling our way, we use each other.”