MINNEAPOLIS — There was no sun to speak of when Elie Vered walked into a windowless room Friday night wearing a beat up, tan sunhat.
The Trinity (Conn.) sophomore wasn’t sporting the cap to block the sun, though. He had earned it from his teammates, by merit of his two-goal performance in Trinity’s 5-3 win against Adrian in first of two semifinals at the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey championships.
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The hat, which has an ominous puck-sized hole through the top, has been a running trophy for the Bantams this season, a cue taken from a similar tradition in use by the New York Rangers.
Vered and his teammates are hoping to have a slightly nicer trophy to show off on Saturday night. The seventh-ranked Bantams take on sixth-ranked UW-Stevens Point for the Division III national title at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.
The Pointers came back from a 2-0 second-period deficit to trounce eighth-ranked Amherst in the second semifinal Friday.
“Every team that’s here is special,” Trinity coach Matthew Greason said before knowing his team’s opponent, adding, “We need to play the best game we’ve ever played.”
The good news for Greason? Friday’s semifinal was the Bantams’ best game of the season so far, he said, and the team’s quarterfinal win against Plattsburgh State might have been the second-best game.
It is little coincidence that the Bantams’ run of strong play comes after what might have been its worst loss. After cruising through the NESCAC season with a 16-1-1 record, the top-seeded Bantams were upset by Tufts in the first round of the conference tournament.
That loss put the then-second-ranked team’s NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy.
Of course, Trinity earned an at-large berth to the postseason, and the rest is history.
The bad news for Greason? Friday’s semifinal might have been UW-Stevens Point’s best game of the season, too.
The Pointers got stronger and stronger against Amherst, first erasing the 2-0 deficit and then utterly overpowering the Jeffs in the third period. UW-Stevens Point registered 41 shots on goal and even clicked on the power play, something that’s been up and down this season for the WIAC regular-season champs.
“At times this year our special teams has created momentum negatively for us,” Brooks said. “I thought tonight both our power play and our penalty kill actually created momentum positively for us, and when we can do that we’re very effective.”
The Pointers have some added motivation coming into the championship game too. They are back in the championship game one year after losing a heartbreaker to St. Norbert in last year’s final.
Of course, the Bantams will be plenty motivated to win their first national title, as well.
The championship game will be the first time the two teams have played this season. Staff members were at Ridder Arena until almost midnight preparing semifinal videos so the coaches could scout each other.
Even still, Brooks says his team will focus on its own play.
“They are a very talented team, as you could see in the semifinal game,” Brooks said. “They have some tendencies that we’re going to prepare for, but in preparing our game tonight you can see the strengths of our team, and we are going to continue to put ourselves in situations where our strengths are exposed.”
The Bantams got their first look at those strengths in person Friday night. They’ll have less than 24 hours to create their game plan.
That’s nothing new for the Connecticut school, though. Greason said the team has been preparing for this weekend all season.
“We’ve treated every weekend that we’re going to win a championship that weekend,” Greason said. “Friday night was the semifinal game, and Saturday would be our championship game. Whether it’s on the road in the middle of January in our league, or a non-league weekend up in New York State. So we’ve approached every weekend to win championships. When you get to this situation, tonight we won the semifinals, but the big one is tomorrow.”