Muise's third-period burst lifts Oswego past Norwich, into national title game
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- It's pronounced “muse,” and that's rather fitting, considering Chris Muise provided all the inspiration the Oswego State Lakers needed to book a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division III national championship game.
A senior forward from Oakville, Ontario, Muise provided the spark in the third period of Friday night's national semifinal against Norwich, as he figured in three of the Lakers' four third-period goals as Oswego State broke open what was a tie game through two periods to grab a 6-3 victory.
Muise slipped a wrist shot past Cadets goaltender Chris Czarnota to give the Lakers the lead for good 6:14 into the third period, provided an assist on Tyler Leimbrock's goal that pushed the lead to 4-2, then squashed any thought of an improbable Norwich comeback by burying an empty-net goal in the final minute.
It was an offensive eruption for a player who, while known more for taking on an aggressive, instigator role in his first three seasons, has taken a more prominent role in the Lakers' attack this season. With three points Friday night, Muise sits third on the Oswego State scoring charts this season with 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) -- equaling his offensive output from his first three college seasons.
“Honestly, I've got to give a little bit of credit -- just a little bit of credit -- to the coaching staff,” Muise said with a wink at Lakers head coach Ed Gosek. “I've always taken on that instigator role, ever since my junior days, but the past couple games, I don't want to focus too much on that. With my linemates, we kind of want to provide that secondary scoring, and in order to do that I can't get too involved in that sort of instigating role -- although I do like to do it.”
Muise credits his offensive renaissance this season to putting in a heavy workload in practice.
“We're always working on things like that in practice. Since my freshman year, I think my hands have gotten a little better,” he said, drawing a laugh when he looked pointedly at teammate Leimbrock.
Muise didn't lack for confidence -- before or after the game. He said he and his teammates were thrilled for the opportunity to go up against a Norwich team which, like Oswego, was making its fourth consecutive appearance in the Division III national semifinals.
“To be the best, you've gotta beat the best, right?” Muise said. “We embraced the challenge. We wouldn't have it any other way [Saturday's] game by beating the best team.”
The teams traded blows through the opening two periods, with the Cadets taking the lead in each stanza and the Lakers quickly answering. Once Muise got things started in the third period, things steamrolled in favor of Oswego State.
The go-ahead goal came as Norwich was dominating play early in the third, with Andrew Brown's breakout pass releasing Muise down the left wing. Czarnota tried to cut down on Muise's angle, but Muise's shot from the left circle got past the Norwich goalie and tucked just inside the far post.
“It was great, I didn't even see it go in until I was kind of behind the net,” Muise said. “It was a pretty great feeling.”
Six minutes later, on the heels of a key Lakers penalty kill, Muise was again in the center of things, starting a gorgeous cycle play that saw him shuffle the puck to David Titanic, whose one-time pass found a wide-open Leimbrock on the doorstep for an easy tap-in.
“It's a drill that we work on in practice, a corner-to-corner cycle,” Leimbrock said. “Muise found Titanic right in front, and Titanic made a great play, made it real easy for me. It was wide open, and you hope you don't miss those.”
Oswego State made it a 5-2 lead on a Matt Singleton goal with 6:11 left, and though Norwich scored with 2:11 left, Muise's empty-netter sealed the win and capped a nightmare final 14 minutes for Norwich head coach Mike McShane.
“I thought it was a great game for 50 minutes,” McShane said. “I thought we played well in the first and second periods, and in the third period I thought it was tilting our way; we played well and were dominating a little bit, got some chances, but then they got that one goal. After they got that one goal, we just didn't answer.”
The Lakers, however, did answer the bell. After Norwich's Pier-Olivier Cotnoir put the Cadets on top just 20 seconds into the first period -- reminiscent of the goal by St. Norbert's Cody Keefer against Oswego State in the opening moments of last year's national championship game -- the Lakers quickly equalized through Paul Rodrigues and eventually built the momentum that let Muise take over in the final 14 minutes.
“We certainly didn't get off to the start we wanted,” Gosek said. “It was kind of deja vu from St. Norbert last year, but I think the biggest difference this year is the experience, the maturity. The guys, they're not kids any more – not just age-wise, but their actions and how they handle the adversity and persevere.”
As a member of a senior class that's reached championship weekend in each of its four years, Muise is eager for a chance to return to Herb Brooks Arena on Saturday night and cap his career with a national title.
“It's unbelievable,” he said. “Obviously, we're not done yet, but we're going to enjoy this for the evening.”