UWSP men’s hockey falls in Frozen Four
By John Kemmeter
Despite a nearly 3-to-1 advantage in shots, the fourth-ranked University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) men’s hockey team fell to sixth-ranked Salve Regina (R.I.) (22-6-2) in the NCAA Division III Frozen Four Friday, March 23.
The Pointers out-shot Salve Regina 55-20 in the National Semifinal at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., but Salve Regina First Team All-American junior goaltender Blake Wojtala set a NCAA Tournament record for saves and his team was able to hold on to a 2-0 lead until late, when it added an empty-net goal to win 3-0 and end UWSP’s season at 21-6-3.
“It just didn’t go our way,” said UWSP senior Second Team All-American goalie Max Milosek. “We put the shots on the net, and their goalie had a hell of a game.”
“We dominated the play,” said UWSP men’s hockey interim head coach Tyler Krueger. “We turn one puck over and it ends up in our net.
“They get a power-play goal (later), and when a goalie gets hot like that, it’s hard to come back from behind,” he said. “We were clawing ever since that first goal; we were clawing our way back into it.”
The Pointers won 5-2 at second-ranked Adrian (Mich.) in the National Quarterfinals March 17 to earn their 10th trip to the Frozen Four in program history, where they opened Friday afternoon against Salve Regina.
UWSP put pressure on Wojtala early, as he had to make 18 saves in the opening 13 minutes of the game, including five during a power-play midway through the period, before Salve Regina even put a shot on goal.
“Our power play, it would’ve been nice to cash one in there, it would’ve changed the whole game and the momentum,” said Krueger. “He’s an All-American for a reason, and all goalies, when you start to give them confidence, they can get on a hot streak.
“Every shot that we put into his chest in that first period, only led to him having more and more confidence throughout that game,” he said. “From then on, his confidence grew.”
Despite trailing 23-1 in the shot department heading into the final two minutes of the first period, Salve Regina struck with an unassisted goal with 1:25 left in the first period when freshman forward Erik Udahl came up with the puck on a turnover and lifted a shot over the right shoulder of Milosek to give Salve Regina a 1-0 lead.
“They came in full force and they slanted the ice,” said Salve Regina men’s hockey head coach Zech Klann of UWSP. “At one point I think it was 20-0 in the shots, and when you get an effort like that, I’m just proud that the guys hung together there.
“Because that could’ve gone many different ways,” he said.
The Pointers trailed 1-0 going into the first intermission, and held a 10-9 shot advantage in the second period when a tripping penalty at the 13:15 mark put Salve Regina on the power-play.
Salve Regina responded, as Udahl scored his second goal of the game at the 13:50 mark to give the team a 2-0 lead with 6:10 to play in the second period.
“I got caught looking at the right, (there were) the big bodies flying on the left side, so I was trying to look around,” said Milosek. “And the guy made his shot past my left low blocker.”
“The power play was just going to the puck on the perimeter, and I saw a seam and just threw it on net,” said Udahl. “And it happened to go in.”
Salve Regina was able to hold on to its 2-0 lead going into the third period, when UWSP got only its second power-play opportunity of the game 2:51 into the final period.
The Pointers were unable to capitalize and also came up empty on a power-play opportunity at the 7:35 mark of the third period, despite putting 11 shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes of the final period.
Wojtala made six more saves before Milosek was pulled for an extra skater with 2:38 to go, and Salve Regina came up with an empty-net goal 10 seconds later to take a 3-0 lead with 2:28 remaining in the game.
Wojtala made four saves the rest of the way to finish with an NCAA Tournament record 55 saves for a game that ended in regulation, while Milosek had 17 saves in the 3-0 loss for the Pointers.
“We played a full 60 minutes,” said Krueger. “We played just as well as we did last weekend against Adrian.
“Last weekend the pucks went in,” he said. “And this weekend, for whatever reason, they didn’t.”
Top-ranked St. Norbert (26-4-1) went on to beat Salve Regina 3-2 in double overtime in the National Championship Game Saturday, March 24, as it scored 9:42 into the second overtime to win its program’s fifth National Title to tie UWSP for the second-most in Division III history behind the eight won by Middlebury (Vt.).
The loss in the National Semifinals ended a season that saw Stevens Point native Krueger move up from associate head coach to take over as interim head coach for this season July 20 after Chris Brooks left to become an assistant coach at NCAA Division 1 Michigan Tech, as the Pointers lost eight seniors from a year ago, and 16 of the 25 players on their roster were underclassmen.
UWSP was 5-3-1 after the first month of the season, before it went 16-2-2 the rest of the way to win the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Regular Season Title and earn a trip to the Frozen Four, where its run came to an end in the National Semifinals.
“Pucks bounce either way,” said senior captain Willem Nong-Lambert. “We obviously controlled the game a full 60 minutes; a couple of bounces for us can bounce that way, pucks coming back on our net.
“It’s just how it goes sometimes, and it’s a tough pill to swallow right now,” he said. “But I’m proud of our group for battling.”
“I preach to them that they’ve got to control what they can control, everything else is out of their control,” said Krueger, when asked about his future after serving as interim head coach. “There are things within the results that are out of our control, such as running into a hot goaltender, some referees’ bad calls, bounces of the puck.
“What we can control is how hard we work in the process and how we grow as individuals each and every day,” he said. “The team did that, and I’m no different.
“It’s been a blast,” he said. “I have no idea, I haven’t even thought about that and it’s out of my hands at this point. I did everything I can to put myself in that position, and whatever happens, happens.”