LEWISTON, Maine -- When things got bumpy, St. Norbert forward Michael Hill said it was the Green Knights' senior leaders that kept the ship steady in Friday's NCAA Division III national semifinal against Geneseo State.
“Everyone was staying positive, and if you stay positive, something good will happen,” Hill said.But it was Hill, a sophomore, who made those good things happen -- and fast.
After Geneseo had rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the game just before the midway point of the second period, it was Hill who struck fast to keep St. Norbert's hope of a third national championship in four years alive by scoring his 19th and 20th goals of the season 84 seconds apart late in the second period to send the Green Knights to a 6-2 victory at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
All because when the game got frantic midway through the second period and the Geneseo Knights fired back, Hill and the rest of the St. Norbert Green Knights never panicked.
“You have to be patient and stick to your guns,” St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin said. “There were some moments in the second period, probably after it went 2-2, that it got a little flat. Then, you saw the leadership of [senior defenseman] Reid Campbell, the leadership of some of our seniors saying, 'Fellas, stay with the game plan.'”
That said, Hill's first goal of the night with 2:31 left in the second period was anything but in accordance with St. Norbert's game plan. With the teams playing four-on-four after a five-minute major and game misconduct on Geneseo's Zach Martin and a tripping penalty on St. Norbert's Chris Rial, St. Norbert forward Erik Cooper ripped a shot that got through Geneseo goaltender Nick Horrigan and found its way to Hill, who bundled it into the net.
“[Cooper] rips a shot along that gets through and hits me straight in the chest,” Hill said. “I kind of fumbled it into the net. I fell right into it.”
“That's a goal-scorer's goal right there,” Coghlin added with a smile.
Less than a 1 1/2 minutes later, Hill provided a significantly prettier addition to his go-ahead goal, taking a feed from Cullen Bradshaw, streaking down the right wing, faking out Horrigan and wrapping around the cage before stuffing a shot inside the near post.
“I hear Cooper yelling, 'Stuff it, stuff it,' so I went and just stuck it right in there,” said Hill, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound winger from Fort Worth, Texas.
Hill's strikes in succession sapped the wind from the sails of a Geneseo team with a penchant for postseason comebacks. Though Coghlin said his team was still wary of a Knights squad that had rallied from a 5-1 deficit against Oswego State in the SUNYAC championship game and a 2-0 hole against Norwich in the NCAA quarterfinals, when Hill swung the momentum, St. Norbert's veteran coach could feel a change in the game heading to the second intermission.
“We just kept cautioning ourselves that this is a team that's got some push,” Coghlin said. “However, I thought they started to get a little gassed. Personally, I started to see it right at the end of the second.”
Senior Joe Perry had two goals and an assist for St. Norbert (27-3-1), which also got goals from Reid Campbell and Tyler Zepeda. That balance -- seven different Green Knights have tallied at least 20 points this season -- and a boatload of veteran leadership has Coghlin confident his club can overcome any little hiccups.
“We're not a team that relies on a particular group, but more a concept of what we're doing,” he said.
Even when Geneseo scored twice in a little more than three minutes -- on a Cam Hampson wrister and a Justin Scharfe power-play marker -- to tie the game with 12:16 left in the second period, St. Norbert goaltender David Jacobson was never fazed that his team could get the lead back.
“I still had confidence in the guys that they could score a couple,” Jacobson said.
Hill provided the energy with his rapid-fire goals, Perry and Zepeda added the insurance in the third period and very quickly, Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said, things went from his club having all the momentum to the one comeback his team couldn't complete.
“We just didn't get much puck-luck on the third and fourth goals,” Schultz said. “That was the difference-maker, in my opinion.”