LEWISTON, Maine — Joe Perry didn’t want to leave St. Norbert wondering about what might have been.
Walking into the post-game news conference clutching the NCAA Division III championship trophy clutched in one hand, a banana in the other and a mile-wide smile plastered on his face, Perry knew he didn’t have to worry about that.
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“This was my last college hockey game I’ll ever play, I wanted to go out on top,” Perry said. “If we lost this game, it would’ve been devastating and I would’ve been thinking about it for the rest of my life. To win this is huge.”
Perry scored St. Norbert’s opening goal on a wraparound late in the first period, capping off a three-goal weekend that saw him earn Most Outstanding Player honors as the Green Knights topped Wisconsin-Stevens Point 3-1 in the Division III championship game at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to claim the school’s third national title in four years.
And after missing out on the 2013 Division III national semifinals thanks to a quarterfinal loss to eventual national champion Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Perry and the rest of the St. Norbert seniors came into this season with the burden of unfinished business.
“Ever since we lost last year, it was such a huge disappointment — especially losing to the team that eventually won it in a game we thought we should’ve won,” Perry said. “To be able to come back this year, win every game we needed to win and finish up on top, I’m pretty much lost for words.”
St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin didn’t hold back at all in praising the Green Knights’ record-setting senior class.
“This senior class, led by Joe and his comrades, this is a very unique group of kids who came through the door as freshmen and played such impactful roles as freshman and won a national championship,” Coghlin said. “Then, as sophomores, they already started taking on those leadership qualities that we’ve seen them exemplify in the classroom, the weight room and on the ice.”
“For them to come back and demonstrate the things that they have this entire season, for me in my 20-plus years of doing this, I’ve never seen a senior class quite like this,” he added.
Saturday, Perry — who scored twice in St. Norbert’s semifinal win against Geneseo State — got things started for the Green Knights with 6:54 left in the first period when he took a feed from Tyler Zepeda, got UW-Stevens Point goaltender Brandon Jaeger to commit and wrapped around the back of the net, stuffing a shot home before Jaeger could scramble across the crease.
“We knew a little bit about Jaeger, that he’s really aggressive,” Perry said. “When [Zepeda] struck me that puck, he came way out so I was able to do a quick wraparound and sneak it by.”
Eleven seconds later, St. Norbert’s Erik Cooper deflected in a blast from Blake Thompson — setting a Division III championship game record for the fastest two-goal stretch — for a 2-0 lead. The Pointers fought back to pull within 2-1 on Garrett Ladd’s tally in the opening minute of the third period, but St. Norbert defenseman Marian Fiala all but sealed the title with 14:13 left in the third with a blast from the blue line that beat Jaeger just after a St. Norbert power play expired.
“I pretty much just close my eyes, took a shot and I can’t remember the rest of it,” Fiala said.
The rest of the win was secured by Green Knights junior goalie David Jacobson, the Division III national player of the year, who stopped 23 of the 24 shots he saw — with help from the goalposts on a couple.
It was the second national title for Jacobson who said, smiling through a magnificent beard he’d grown from the opening day of the season, that the onus was now on his fellow juniors to try and equal Perry and the departing seniors.
“Obviously, we want to chase these guys down and try to match their three,” Jacobson said.
For Perry and the other St. Norbert seniors who will leave the school’s De Pere, Wis. campus with three championships, Saturday’s accomplishment was simply surreal.
“It’s been an unbelievable four years here. I never expected to win three national championships,” Perry said. “I’m lost for words, because it’s just unbelievable. This one’s especially special, because it’s my last year here and going out on top with the group of guys in this senior class is just unbelievable.”