MINNEAPOLIS — About two weeks ago, Trinity men’s hockey coach Matthew Greason went to team captain Michael Flynn with an offer.
Flynn, a senior defenseman, had been playing through a knee injury since early February, when he aggravated his surgically repaired knee in a game against Middlebury.
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“I said, ‘Flynny, do you need some time off?’” Greason recalled.
No, Flynn replied, “I need to get through three more games.”
That third game was Saturday night, and it ended with a national championship when Trinity (Conn.) defeated UW-Stevens Point 5-2 in the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey championship in Minneapolis. It marked the first national title for Trinity, and the second consecutive runner-up finish for the Pointers.
“Like Grease said, I just had to find a way to get through it,” Flynn said. “There was no way I was going to miss any games or sit out practice. Got to find a way to stay out there, and I did that.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”
Greason credited the team’s selflessness, embodied by Flynn throughout his four years in Hartford, is what drove the Bantams to the national title.
“They would do anything for the guy to the right and the left of them,” he said. “They’d block a shot, they’d take a hit to make a play; they were absolutely in it to be the best team.”
That was evident throughout the title game, an effort in which the Bantams never trailed but were frequently on the defensive. As the Pointers sent shot after shot toward the Trinity net, Bantams players created a spider web in front of goalie junior Nathaniel Heilbron, throwing their bodies around to close scoring lanes or deflect pucks in any way they could.
The teams traded goals in the first period, with Trinity sophomore forward Kyle Orlando opening things up 3:38 into the game and UW-Stevens Point senior defenseman Kyle Brodie answering late in the period. Then junior forward Michael Hawkrigg put Trinity up just 1:52 into the second period.
UW-Stevens Point was relentless, though, and when junior forward Nick D’Avolio tied the game with 10:50 remaining, the “Lets go Pointers” chants began in Ridder Arena and the team appeared on its way to a second comeback victory this weekend.
Then the momentum stopped.
Trinity sophomore forward Ethan Holdaway scored through traffic with 3:52 remaining. Then the senior defenseman Greg Rooney and senior forward Conor Coveney sealed the game with two empty-net goals in the final 36.1 seconds.
The win marked the end of the road for Trinity’s 10 seniors, a group of players who were freshmen when Greason arrived in 2011-12.
“I didn’t recruit them,” Greason said, “but the day I showed up on campus, they were 100 percent committed to everything we preach and everything we believe in: putting team first, making great decisions on and off the ice, developing young men who refuse to lose battles, who refuse to get out-willed. And these guys have embodied that on the ice, off the ice, in the summer, in the winter, and that’s what makes them such a special group.”
The group experienced ups and downs over those four years.
As freshmen, they won just nine games. Then, in 2013-14, the Bantams went 21-5 and had one of the nation’s top-ranked offenses, but a loss in the NESCAC tournament kept them out on the NCAA tournament. The story almost repeated itself this year. Trinity, then ranked No. 2 in the nation and having the best record in the league, lost to Tufts in the first round of the conference tournament.
This year, though, the Bantams made the 11-team NCAA field as an at-large team, and they made the most of it.
“This group of guys, if you ever spent any amount of time around them, you know immediately how special they are as people,” Greason said. “Today everybody learned how special they are as hockey players, but this is one of the best groups of young men I have ever been fortunate enough to be around.”
That character stems from the team’s leaders, including those seniors and especially the tri-captains: Flynn, forward Jackson Brewer and defenseman Paul Burns.
At the top of that list, though, is Flynn.
“Flynny has set the groundwork for what a great captain is,” Greason said. “Every person to a man knows who our leader is, and he’s sitting right here.”
Flynn, a two-year captain, doesn’t wow with gaudy stats or flashy play, but with effort like that displayed in the past several weeks.
“Kid’s been playing on one knee for about one month right now,” Greason said. “Nobody would ever know it, he’s playing at an All-American level on one knee.”
As the Bantams celebrated Saturday night, Greason couldn’t help but take a moment to think about the future. But only for a minute.
“Truth be told, at some point it’s going to sink in that the next line chart I write as a head coach is going to be the first time I don’t have Michael Flynn in the lineup, and I’m scared of that,” he said. “But we’ll find a way around that. It’s just going to be sad to see these seniors go, but man we’re going to enjoy this for a while.”