MINNEAPOLIS — UW-Stevens Point men’s hockey coach Chris Brooks talks about his team keeping an “even keeled” approach.
That was evident against Amherst Friday in the semifinal of the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey championship in Minneapolis.
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The Pointers never slowed down when they faced a two-goal deficit in the second period.
“We congratulate each other, celebrate a win, but nothing has been accomplished yet,” Brooks said. “We’ve talked all season since we left Lewiston last year, our goal has been to put ourselves in a situation to win a national championship. That’s the end goal.”
Lewiston, Maine, was the site of last year’s DIII national championship, where UW-Stevens Point lost 3-1 to St. Norbert. Avenging that loss has been a theme for the Pointers throughout this season — but in keeping with their even approach, not too strong of a theme.
“We concentrated so much on the process,” Brooks said, “and not getting too far ahead of ourselves or not getting too far behind us, and staying in the present.”
When sixth-ranked UW-Stevens Point is at its best, the team is controlling the puck and putting pressure on the opponent’s defense and goalies. With 41 shots on goal, it’s fair to say the Pointers achieved that.
The result wasn’t always so certain, though. Far from it.
Amherst got on the board first, with junior forward Brendan Burke and freshman forward David White both tallying second-period goals.
But the Pointers didn’t panic.
“We talked about just sticking with the process, just staying level headed,” Brooks said. “It’s happened to us before, so it’s nothing we’ve never been through. We just had to trust each other.”
And, indeed, UW-Stevens Point junior defenseman Alex Brooks closed the gap to one just 23 seconds later.
Then the third period happened.
With the Pointers really turning on the pressure, junior forward Nick D’Avolio tied the game 5:53. Ninety seconds later Brooks scored his second goal on a power play. Then sophomore forward Lawrence Cornellier scored on a rebound, junior forward Joe Kalisz added another tally and Cornellier sealed the game with a long empty-net goal.
UW-Stevens Point nearly had another goal late in the third period, too, but it was called back.
If the win showcased the Pointers’ even resolve, it also showcased the team’s depth.
“Every piece of our puzzle is an integral part of our success,” Brooks said. “We have guys that can make a difference in games. The good thing about us is we don’t rely on just one guy to do that.”
The team certainly has some standouts.
Kevin Gibson — a first-team All-American, WIAC Player of the Year and national player of the year finalist — led all defensemen this year with 1.03 points per game.
Kalisz led the team with 39 points (17 goals, 14 assists) coming into the game.
And senior goalie Brandon Jaeger has been sturdy all season, with a 2.20 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and five shutouts coming into the game.
As Friday’s game went on, everything seemed to come together.
“When you get into this stage of the game, with games of this magnitude, your best players have to make a difference, and tonight I thought our best players made a difference,” Brooks said.
“Our guys that played their best in other roles were their best in other roles, too. We had a lot of guys step up on the PK in the last five or six minutes, we had some guys step up and win some big draws and make some good strong plays with pucks. I thought our depth in our team paid off.”