UWSP set to host Frozen Four at K.B. Willett Arena
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
A National Champion will be crowned in Stevens Point when the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) hosts the NCAA Division III Men’s Hockey Frozen Four at K.B. Willett Arena this weekend.
The top-ranked UWSP men’s hockey team (27-0-2) earned the right to host out of the four teams remaining and will open against eighth-ranked Hobart (N.Y.) (21-7-2) in the National Semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday, March 22.
Second-ranked State University of New York (SUNY) Geneseo (25-1-2) will play third-ranked Norwich (Vt.) (22-4-3) in the other National Semifinal at 3 p.m. Friday, with the National Championship Game set for 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23.
“It means everything (to host),” said UWSP men’s hockey head coach Tyler Krueger, a Stevens Point native who played hockey at SPASH and UWSP. “Our community definitely deserves it, and the support we’ve had has been phenomenal over the past couple of years, especially the last couple of months of this season, and the hype and the buzz around town is phenomenal.
“So for our town to be able to showcase this and put this event on this weekend is very special, and it’s something that might not ever happen again,” he said. “So we’re trying to take everything in, soak it in, and try to enjoy it as much as possible.”
This will be the second time that the Division III Frozen Four will be held at K.B. Willett Arena, after UWSP also hosted in 1990, when the National Semifinals and National Championship were played with a two-game series and a 20-minute mini-game if necessary.
The Pointers won 5-4 over Minnesota State-Mankato and tied 3-3 in the second game of the National Semifinals to advance to the National Championship, where UWSP won 10-1 over Plattsburg State (N.Y.) in the first game and lost 6-3 in the second game to Plattsburgh State the next night, before the Pointers won 1-0 in the mini-game to capture what was the second of their three consecutive National Titles.
“The Willett is proud to host it again for the second time, and the first thing to do is thank the Pointers for the winning season that they’ve had, to be able to get it to come here,” said Stevens Point Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Tom Schrader. “We’re very excited, and it means a lot to a community, especially this size in central Wisconsin.
“Not only is it bringing in three teams and their fans for a couple of days,” he said. “But somebody’s going to leave here, hopefully the Pointers, as the National Champs.”
“It puts a lot more work on a lot of different people, with the rink staff having to change things around and get the logos in, get the ice out,” said Krueger. “They’re working overtime; and our ticket office, it’s a mad scramble there, and our administration is putting a lot of stuff together.
“It creates a lot of work for a lot of different people,” he said. “But the opportunity to host is something that doesn’t come along every year.”
UWSP carries a program-record 29-game unbeaten streak into the Frozen Four and will play Friday night against Hobart, which received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after it lost 2-1 to Norwich in the NEHC Tournament Championship Game March 2.
Hobart won 3-2 at seventh-ranked Oswego State (N.Y.) in the NCAA Quarterfinals last Saturday to advance to the Frozen Four for the third time, and has been led this season by senior forward Jonas Toupal (12 goals, 26 points), freshman forward Zach Tyson (six goals, 26 points), junior forward Zach Sternbach (eight goals, 23 points) and freshman goalie Liam Lascelle (10-2-2, 1.64 goals against average, 93.5 save percentage).
“Every team is good this time of year, teams don’t get to the Final Four by fluke, and we’ve watched a couple of games on them already and we’re going to put together a game plan and be ready to go,” said Krueger. “They play hard and they’ve got good goaltending, they’re pretty good at defending, and they’re never out of a game.
“They’ve played some tough opponents and played them very well, they’re physical, they’re big, they skate pretty well and they have team speed,” he said. “There are some areas that we can expose, and we’re going to try to exploit those.”
Geneseo and Norwich will meet in the other National Semifinal Friday afternoon, after Geneseo won 8-2 over 15th-ranked Manhatttanville in the National Quarterfinals last Saturday, and Norwich won 2-1 in overtime over the 11th-ranked University of New England.
Making its third Frozen Four appearance in six years, Geneseo leads Division III in scoring offense (5.0 goals per game) and scoring defense (1.21 goals allowed per game), and carries a 23-game unbeaten streak into Friday, led by junior forward Andrew Romano (10 goals, Division III-best 52 points), junior forward Conlan Keenan (23 goals, second in Division III with 48 points), senior defenseman Mitch Ferguson (nine goals, 36 points) and senior goalie Devin McDonald (23-1-2, Division III-best 1.15 goals against average, 94.3 save percentage).
Norwich won its fourth National Title in 2017 and brings an 18-game unbeaten streak into this weekend, led by sophomore forward Felix Brassard (11 goals, 28 points), freshman forward Brett Ouderkirk (14 goals, 26 points), sophomore forward Coby Downs (six goals, 25 points) and junior goalie Tom Aubrun (19-3-3, 1.65 goals against average, 93.0 save percentage).
“It’s a different type of hockey that our fans don’t get to normally see here in the west,” said Krueger. “They’re two high-flying, eastern teams, they both skate very, very well and have some really skilled players up front, and it should be a very fast-paced game.
“They’re both phenomenal teams and we’ll be ready for them, as far as a pre-scout, hoping that we advance to Saturday, but it should be a great game for the casual hockey fan in Stevens Point to come out and watch,” he said. “There will be a lot of tickets available for that first game with those two teams in it, and I encourage our fans to go out there, because it’s going to be a very fun hockey game.”
Meanwhile, UWSP will play in the Frozen Four this weekend for the fifth time in six years, and will look to win its sixth National Championship in program history, after it also won National Titles in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993 and 2016.
The Pointers rank sixth in Division III in scoring offense (4.21 goals per game) and second in scoring defense (1.41 goals allowed per game) this season, led by 2018 First Team All-American senior forward Tanner Karty (11 goals, 35 points), sophomore forward Zach Zech (nine goals, 28 points), sophomore forward Carter Roo (11 goals, 26 assists) and sophomore goalie Connor Ryckman (24-0-1, second in Division III with 1.37 goals against average, 93.6 save percentage).
“It’s going to take what we did on Saturday against St. Norbert, and then some,” said Krueger. “And if we do that and get everybody going again, we believe that it gives us the best chance to have success coming out of the weekend.
“But there are going to be ups and downs and a grind, and I just want our guys to stay in the moment and stay focused on what we can control,” he said. “There are a lot of things that are going on with the town, obviously there’s a lot of outside noise, which is great.
“But at the end of the day, it’s their job and our job as coaches to keep our mind focused on what we can control in the present, and that’s our attitude and effort to prep during the week, and then come game time, the same thing,” he said. “It’s just focusing on what we can control and doing it to the best of our ability, and let the chips fall where they may.”