DIII hockey: Noah Nelson's 2OT goal pushes St. Norbert to finals
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Noah Nelson just wanted to put an end to the insanity and get some rest.
After 83 minutes and 49 seconds of mind-blowing action Friday night at Herb Brooks Arena, Nelson, a junior forward for the St. Norbert Green Knights, found himself with a chance to do just that. One-on-one with UMass Boston goalie Zach Andrews, Nelson had the puck poke checked away, but kept pushing forward and nudged the puck just over the goal line to send St. Norbert into the NCAA Division III men's ice hockey national championship game with an utterly unforgettable 8-7 double-overtime win.
"When you see that light go on, it's like, you can finally sit down after all of that," Nelson said.
It was a game that featured 15 goals on 90 shots against four different goalies, six goals scored by defensemen, a reserve linesman called into service due to injury midway through the third period and runs of three, seven and four unanswered goals during 60 wild minutes of regulation. Pretty much everything short of the partridge and the pear tree.
Nelson, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, finally put an end to proceedings 3:49 into the second overtime when Steven Phillips -- who hours earlier sparked St. Norbert's seven-goal run when he scored with 0.7 seconds left in the first period -- tipped the puck to center ice. Nelson pounced on it and was in alone against Andrews, with plenty of time to think about it.
"I think I almost thought too much, because I had so much time," said Nelson, whose goal earned the Green Knights a date with Wisconsin-Stevens Point for the national title Saturday night at 7 p.m. "It was a great play from (Phillips) and I just made a play. Coach (Tim Coghlin) has been on me all week to shoot. I just wanted to come down and get a shot off, luckily enough it happened to go in."
MORE: Box score
St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin said he's expressed his desire to have Nelson shoot more for a little longer than a week.
"I've been on Nelly for nine weeks to shoot," Coghlin said. "Truth be told, through nine games Noah Nelson was our leading scorer. Then he took a little lull, and guess what was happening when he hit that lull? He was over-dishing the puck. We've been on him for a long time to shoot. He skates like the wind, he's so well-conditioned, he's the last guy in the weight room every single day and he's got a very effective shot."
Nelson's winner was just the final act in a game of non-stop twists and turns. UMass Boston started with a flourish, banking three goals before the game was seven minutes old and forcing Coghlin to send starting goalie Tony Kujava to the bench in favor of T.J. Black after just three-and-a-half minutes.
Phillips' buzzer-beater to end the first period started to turn the tide.
"I think that was the turning point for us to score going into the second period. In a period they dominated, for us to have that little spark was big," said St. Norbert center Erik Cooper.
That goal opened the floodgates, as the Green Knights unloaded for six goals in the second period -- two each from Blake Thompson and Pikus Rulevicius, along with markers for Cooper and Tyler Andrews -- to take a seemingly insurmountable 7-3 lead.
To the Beacons, it wasn't so insurmountable.
UMass Boston, making its first Division III Frozen Four appearance, roared back in the third to force overtime. John Bonno, Matt Lemire and Brett Mason scored to close the gap, then things went completely off the rails when Frankie DeAugustine slid the puck to the point to defenseman Tyler Bishop, who fired a wrister past Black to tie things up with 1:18 left in regulation.
A four-goal comeback, and the Beacons never even had to pull Andrews -- who replaced starter Billy Faust at the start of the third period -- for an extra attacker.
"I knew we weren't done," DeAugustine said. "I truly believe that if there was any team in the country that could come back from that, it was us."
"Anybody who doesn't know who UMass Boston is, wake up, because you do now," Coghlin said.
After a scoreless first overtime session, Nelson finally sent everyone to bed -- though not without a little controversy, as Beacons coach Peter Belisle would have preferred a chance to see the goal reviewed on video replay.
"The referee said it went in, but in every other league they have a video review," Belisle said. "I would've loved to see the tape on that. I thought Zach made a great poke check and the momentum carried it into the net. I couldn't see it cross the line, so I would've loved to see some verification on that. We were obviously stunned, we couldn't believe it and we didn't want it to end, so that was probably our reaction there. We could tell it wasn't gonna change, so we sent out our team to go get our goalie."
The final hero on a night where so many took center stage was just happy to drop the curtain.
"We were really confident in our locker room," Nelson said. "We thought we were gonna get the job done."
And as for the Green Knights' veteran head coach, who will seek to lead the program to a fifth national title since 2008 Saturday night, when he was asked to go through the emotions of Friday's epic, his response was simple.
"Nope, and I never want to do it again," Coghlin said.