DEPERE, Wis. — St. Thomas scored early but not often Wednesday night, and it cost them a 3-1 loss to defending national champion St. Norbert in the first round of the NCAA Division III hockey tournament.
The No. 7-ranked Tommies (18-6-2) came out fast in the first period, as sophomore defenseman Willi Rose netted St. Thomas’ first and only goal. The following two periods did not go the Tommies’ way, with No. 5-ranked St. Norbert (18-5-5) scoring three unanswered goals.
After the game, St. Thomas coach Jeff Boeser said the loss was due to what St. Norbert did and St. Thomas did not.
“We have got to give a little credit to St. Norbert,” Boeser said. “They did a good job, and our guys were maybe not quite at the top of their game, and we didn’t finish. We had some chances but didn’t finish.”
St. Norbert will play host to Gustavus Adolphus (17-6-5) on Saturday in the quarterfinals. The Gusties won 3-1 Wednesday over Milwaukee School of Engineering.
St. Thomas outshot St. Norbert 7-1 in the first 10 minutes, including Rose’s goal with 8:32 gone from the first period. Senior forward Tom O’Donnell got the assist.
St. Norbert took over in the second period. Sophomore defenseman Zach McDonald scored at the 6:48 mark on the assist from freshman forward Cullen Bradshaw, then junior forward Cody Keefer gave the Green Knights the lead 16:33 into the period on a power-play, the assist going to senior forward Johan Ryd. Keefer’s goal ended St. Thomas’ streak of consecutive penalty kills at 41.
St. Norbert added to its lead 10:31 into the third period when Keefer scored again off of another assist from Ryd.
Along with wasted chances, penalties for St. Thomas and St. Norbert were factors in how the game played out. St. Norbert went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Tommies were 0-for-6, including not being able to capitalize on a 5-on-3 situation.
“In the second period, penalties started getting out of hand, and we had a 5-on-3 we could have capitalized on,” senior captain Chris Hickey said. “It came down to some special teams tonight, and we were on the losing end of that unfortunately.”
Freshman goalie Drew Fielding stopped 21 shots for the Tommies, while freshman goalie David Jacobson made 23 saves in his first NCAA tournament game for the Green Knights.
As the Tommies’ season comes to a close, senior captain Matt Lipinksi reflected on the year.
“We put together a hell of a season. A lot of wins in a row, a lot of comeback wins and a lot of good team wins,” Lipinski said. “It was good to see that and be a part of that; it was something special.”
Senior captain Robbie Philipp also talked about the team’s season and his last game wearing a Tommie sweater.
“I’m just proud of every guy on the team. I think of every guy on the team as my best friend,” Philipp said. “That’s the toughest part, not only losing the game but it’s the last time you will be with your friends.”
With the Tommies’ season officially over, Boeser said he hopes the team will come back next year even more determined.
“The seniors really laid the foundation; we got that title back (MIAC conference title). It’s been awhile, and we are really proud of our guys for that,” Boeser said. “Hopefully we can build on that for next year; all these young guys got some playoff experience, and I think they will remember what it felt like to not get to the next step and will make them even hungrier next year.”
Jake Swansson can be reached at email@example.com.