LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Tanner Karty didn't lace up his skates for the Wisconsin-Stevens Point men's ice hockey team until nearly halfway through the season. When he did, the freshman from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, made an immediate impact – but nothing as important as what he did Friday evening.
Karty and his linemates Eliot Grauer and Nick D'Avolio were a constant menace for the Pointers in their 5-1 NCAA Division III semifinal win over the SUNY Geneseo Knights, with their speed wreaking havoc on the Olympic-sized ice at Herb Brooks Arena. Karty finished with a goal and an assist in helping UW-Stevens Point reach the Division III national championship game for a third consecutive year.
“I hadn't played in eight or nine months, and it was special just being able to play a game,” Karty said. “I was able to come right out and get a goal in my first game (Jan. 7 against Hamline) and since then it's just clicked more and more.”
Karty's goal came in the middle of a three-goal first period surge that put the Pointers in control for good. Four minutes after Jono Davis' weaving solo effort through the Geneseo defense put UWSP in front, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Karty turned in a brilliant defense-to-offense conversion.
The freshman right winger started the rush when he blocked a slapshot from the point by Knights defenseman Matt Solomon. The puck was tipped out to Karty in the neutral zone, and he spearheaded a 3-on-1 break, carrying the puck all the way in before beating Geneseo goalie Devin McDonald stick-side.
“(Solomon) went for the puck, and I had plenty of time to get ready for it,” Karty said. “I got a stick on it, Eliot chipped it forward to me, I saw the goalie was cheating a bit and I put it past him.”
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The Karty-D'Avolio-Grauer line wasn't done yet. Up 3-0 midway through the second period, Grauer and Karty worked a nifty give-and-go that left Grauer wide open on the doorstep for a tap-in goal. Grauer added the Pointers' fifth goal with 7:34 left in the third period when he stole an attempting Geneseo clearing pass and beat McDonald 1-on-1.
“My line, we kind of got together the last couple weeks,” Grauer said. “I switched from center to wing and we've clicked pretty well.”
Karty and Grauer were among the many Pointers who thrived on the wider ice in Lake Placid, where the team's skating ability simply proved to be too much for Geneseo to handle.
“They're skating was just the difference,” said Geneseo coach Chris Schultz, whose team managed only 12 shots on goal. “Forwards, defense, top-to-bottom, they can all move. … These guys skate at a different level, every one of them. They just come at you in waves.”
It was all according to plan for the Pointers to move on to Saturday's 7 p.m. championship game.
“We stuck to the system and the system worked,” said senior center Drew Graves, who added a goal and an assist.
It worked even though the Pointers' most prolific line – Lawrence Cornellier, Kyle Sharkey and Jacob Barber, who have combined for 49 goals this season – didn't get on the scoreboard Friday.
“I thought our depth was evident tonight,” Pointers head coach Chris Brooks said. “Barber, Cornellier and Sharkey weren't on the scoresheet tonight, and those guys scored 40 percent of our goals this year. It was nice that we had that depth.”
UWSP's barrage ended an emotional ride for a SUNY Geneseo team that's played much of the season with a heavy heart following the tragic stabbing death of teammate Matt Hutchinson in January.
UW-SP vs. SUNY Geneseo.
“I want us to be remembered as a family,” said Knights captain Ryan Donnelly. “Coaches, teammates, the 30 of us today, these memories will be with us the rest of our lives. Before 'Hutch,' this was already as close a group as I've ever been with. Unfortunately, it was a tragedy that brought us closer together.”
When trying to reflect on his team's emotional journey, Schultz needed nearly 30 seconds to gather himself.
“They provided our community with a lot of strength,” Schultz said. “I'm so proud to have coached them. What they've gone through, nobody should have to go through. I couldn't be more proud of them as individuals for how they handled themselves through this whole thing. Like Ryan said, I want them to be remembered for fighting adversity and having that family-type of bond to get through it.”