Utica, N.Y. - Trinity senior captain defenseman Sam Johnson (Dallas, Texas) sent a slapshot past St. Norbert goalie T.J. Black (Wheaton, Ill.) and into the top shelf of the net for his first goal of the season in game-winning fashion to lift the Trinity College men's hockey team to a 3-2 victory over the Green Knights in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Friday afternoon at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. The Bantams improve to 21-6-3 on the year and advance to tomorrow's National Championship game at 7 p.m. where they will face the winner of this evening's second semifinal contest between Adrian College and Norwich University. St. Nobert ends its season with a 22-6-1 record.
"That was a very good hockey team that we were fortunate enough to beat," said Trinity Head Coach Matt Greason in the post-game press conference. "I like the way we fought back from some early opportunities and especially how we played in the second and early in the third before we had to withstand some pressure they put on us."
Both teams came out aggressive early, combining for 15 shots in the first ten minutes of period one. Neither side managed to find the back of the net until the 13-minute mark when St. Norbert took a 1-0 lead. After a turnover in the neutral zone, Green Knight senior Jeremy Olinyk (Winnipeg, Manitoba) took the puck up ice and beat Trinity junior goalie Alex Morin (St. Hubert, Quebec) to the back of the net with a wrist-shot that sailed past Morin's glove. Trinity wasted little time scoring the equalizer, which came just 1:25 later. St. Norbert was whistled for an interference penalty which gave the Bantams a power play opportunity with 6:28 remaining in the first that they made good on soon thereafter. Junior Tyler Whitney (Wakefield, Mass.) handled the puck at the point and sent a pass to Senior forward Ryan Cole (Anchorage, Alaska) positioned in the slot. Cole then slipped a pass across the front of the crease to junior forward Anthony Sabitsky (Sicklerville, N.J.) who was stationed at the back-side post and knocked the puck in to tie the game.
Watch the goal by Anthony Sabitsky
Trinity struck again, 1:28 into the second period, on the ninth goal of the year from senior captain Ethan Holdaway (Glastonbury, Conn.). The Bantams controlled the puck in the attacking zone when Whitney dished a pass to Holdaway, who came streaking towards the weak-side post, and potted the puck past St. Norbert goalie T.J. Black (Wheaton, Ill.) to give Trinity a 2-1 advantage. A Trinity hooking penalty at the 8:13 mark allowed St. Norbert a chance on the power play which the Green Knights took advantage of to even the score. St. Norbert set up its offense in Trinity's defensive zone as first-year Dominick Sacco (Brooklyn, N.Y.) sent a pass to Pijus Rulevicius (Warrenville, Ill.) who skated from behind the net to Morin's glove-side. Rulevicius then ripped a wrist shot past Morin and into the top shelf to tie the game 2-2.
Watch the goal by Ethan Holdaway
St. Norbert was called for back-to-back penalties near the ten-minute mark which handed the Bantams nearly four minutes of man-up action, however the Green Knights penalty kill held steady to keep Trinity off the scoreboard and preserve the tie for the time being. It remained a 2-2 game until Johnson came through in a huge way with his first goal of the season in the form of the game-winner. With 1:34 left to play in the second period, Whitney sent a pass to Johnson at the left wing, just inside the blue-line in St. Norbert's zone. Johnson settled Whitney's pass and sent a clapper past Black to put the Bantams ahead, 3-2, entering the second intermission.
St. Norbert nearly found the game-tying goal just inside the ten-minute mark in the third period when sophomore Riley Christensen (De Pere, Wis.) secured a loose puck in between the faceoff circles in Trinity's zone. Christensen fired a wrister on net, but Morin swatted the puck into the corner off his blocker to hold onto the lead. Morin was tested once again, this time with 7:11 remaining, when Green Knight senior Noah Nelson (Oconomowoc, Wis.) found himself with a clear shooting lane to Morin's left and fired a shot on net. Morin, who finished with 31 saves, came up clutch once again, stoning Nelson's shot which allowed the Bantam defense to corral the puck and end the threat. St. Norbert kept pressure on Trinity's defense as the game entered the final minutes but the Bantam blue-liners refused to budge. Morin stood on his head in the waning minutes of the game, saving shots from Roman Uchyn (Chicago, Ill.) and Blake Thompson (Listowel, Ontario), as the Bantams clung to the one-goal lead. St. Norbert pulled Black from goal with 1:48 left to go to gain an extra skater but Trinity's defense proved too tough a challenge to overcome as the Bantams held on for the 3-2 victory.
"I remember all of my goals," joked Johnson after the game, who has three career goals, about his score. "Both teams ended up on the opposite side of the ice so it was natural for me to move into very open space. Tyler [Whitney] found me coming around the net and just put it on the net short side."
"We are a tight-knit group, just like we were two years ago," said Whitney, who finished with three assists this afternoon. "I am just happy when the team scores. Whether it's a teammate or myself, it's all good."
"This team perseveres through all kinds of adversity because of these special guys in the room," added Greason. "It wasn't 80 degrees and sunny all year like we thought it would be. But the leadership in the locker room has allowed us to recover from some early losses. I can't say it enough, this is a special group."