By Matthew Webb
Senior Writer D3hockey.com
STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Adrian is off to the Frozen Four as the Bulldogs capitalized on an explosive power play unit and a third period go-ahead goal by forward Trevor Boyd to down UW-Stevens Point, 6-3, in a NCAA quarterfinal contest at K.B. Willett Arena on Saturday night.
Adrian (20-6-2) never trailed in the game and will face Norwich in a national semifinal on Friday afternoon. It will be Adrian's third Frozen Four appearance.
"Just like when we played them last year I'd say that was a national championship caliber game," said Adrian assistant coach Chase Fuchs. "I think we're very similar teams and (our) guys here just played great. Whether it was (Kevin) Entmaa in net, Trevor scoring goals, our whole team just competed and worked and it was a blast to be part of."
It didn't take Adrian long to claim its first lead of the night and, in what became a significant storyline in the game, the goal came on the power play. Defenseman Cory Dunn nearly made short work of Adrian's first chance with the extra skater when he rang a shot from out high off the crossbar, but a chance by Boyd 30 seconds later got the job done when he beat Stevens Point goaltender Max Milosek with a wrister into top left corner. 1-0 Bulldogs 6:44 in.
"Coaches always stress funneling pucks to the net on the power play," Boyd said. "So on that one it was nice to get it clicking for once and get things going."
Less than a minute later, however, Stevens Point leveled the score when a loose puck kicked to the left of Entmaa and directly to the Pointers' Logan Fredericks who hit a wide open right side of the goal and it was a 1-1 game at the 7:39 mark of the period.
From there the period settled down but it wasn't completely without drama as with 2:23 remaining in the frame an apparent Adrian goal was waived off for the net being dislodged prior to the goal being scored. Immediately waived off by the officials, a lengthy discussion ensued and the call stood.
In the final minute of the period, back-to-back penalties on Stevens Point handed Adrian a two-man advantage and the Bulldogs again capitalized in rapid fashion when a pass skipped backdoor to Mathew Thompson who put it in to make it 2-1 with just 19 seconds remaining.
Just over five minutes into the second period Adrian was back on the power play and it again capitalized. This time, a bad angle shot from the right corner was deflected back door and directly onto the stick of Dino Balsamo, who tapped it in to make it 3-1 Bulldogs at the 6:28 mark.
"It was huge for us (to get ahead)," Fuchs said. "Going back to our conference championship game two weeks ago we got behind and were playing catch-up and that's tough. Getting down to a team like we played tonight isn't where you want to be, so it was huge to get out early and try to stay ahead as best we could."
Adrian nearly ran its lead to 4-1 just 30 seconds later when Stevens Point defenseman Mark Bittner lost an edge, which freed Adrian's Taylor McCloy on a breakaway but his shot was turned back by the blocker of Milosek.
Helped by three consecutive penalties on Adrian, Stevens Point began building momentum as the period wore on, though despite sustaining significant pressure and unloading an abundance of shots, at least one of which hit a post, it wasn't able to reduce its deficit until the final second of the third power play. On the goal, a pile-up in front of the Adrian net ultimately resulted in a goal being called, and after another lengthy discussion by the officials the call was again upheld and it was a 3-2 game with 5:02 left in the period. Tanner Karty was credited with the tally.
|Goaltender Kevin Entmaa finished with 39 saves to backstop Adrian into its third Frozen Four.
Photo: Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
The goal provided a spark for the Pointers, which controlled the closing stages of the period and the constant pressure paid off with just 20 seconds in the frame when Kyle Sharkey finished off a slick series of passes from Lawrence Cornellier and Jacob Barber to draw the game even, 3-3.
After being outshot 12-7 in the opening period the Pointers posted a commanding 20-7 advantage in the second en route to a 42-27 edge on the night.
"That was huge and we built momentum there and it felt great finishing the second period the way we did," said Stevens Point head coach Chris Brooks.
The turning point of the contest may have come in the opening stages of the third period when, after a whistle stopped play in the Adrian zone, Milosek could be seen face down in his crease and in obvious pain. Suffering from severe cramps, Milosek remained in the game after several minutes of treatment but they perhaps took their toll as the next shot he faced proved to be the game-winner for Adrian.
On the play, Boyd made a tremendous play on the forecheck to not only keep the Pointers from clearing their zone but also forced a turnover deep in the right corner before curling towards the faceoff dot and, with a defender draped on him, firing a low shot that beat Milosek far side. It was Adrian's first even strength goal of the night.
"That was another one where it was just about funneling pucks to the net," Boyd said. "Two of my linemates, Austin Hervey and Vinny Post, were going to the net and I wanted to get it to them, but I didn't want to do it on my backhand so I just curled in and threw it at the net and it found a hole."
"That one was a momentum changer for us and we kept it going from there."
At the 9:50 mark of the period Adrian extended its lead to 5-3 when Cory Dunn scored with a slap shot from out high. At that point P.J. Bridges replaced Milosek in goal for Stevens Point, and though Bridges did not concede a goal in 8:12 of action the damage had been done as the back-to-back goals not only stemmed the building momentum of the Pointers but also handed the Bulldogs a lead that proved insurmountable.
"Going into the (locker) room after the second we were looking at it like a one-goal game," Entmaa said. "Just take it easy, shift by shift, and we knew that if we played our game our guys could come out and get a couple of goals and that's exactly what they did there. We got a couple good bounces there and came out on top."
The Bulldogs put the game away with 1:47 remaining when a nearly full-ice clear by Austin Hervey deflected off the side wall and founds its way down the ice and into the back of an empty net.
Adrian finished the night 4-for-8 on the power play while Stevens Point finished 1-for-7. While a game featuring 15 power plays is a bit atypical for a game of this magnitude, the contest proved itself a special teams battle and it was a battle that the Bulldogs won, and that win has earned them a trip to Utica.
"We stress just hunting and working and getting pucks on the power play and not getting stuck on the perimeter," Fuchs said. "It was all about shooting for us and getting to the middle of the ice. At any level of hockey if you can win the special teams I like your odds of winning the game."
The loss for Stevens Point (21-5-3) closes the book on the careers of a senior class that not only spearheaded the resurgence of the program, but finished their four-year stints with 90 wins, three Frozen Four appearances, one national championship, and two national runner-up finishes.
"The nice thing about this senior class is that if you hear these guys talk...it's a culture that they've created and a culture that has become part of our program." Brooks said. "We couldn't have accomplished what we have without this class. (They) have impacted this program in ways no one has before."
For Adrian, its season remains alive and well as it stays in the hunt for its first national title. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the win for the Bulldogs is that they did it without the services of head coach Adam Krug, who missed the game as he had to serve a one game NCAA tournament suspension as a result of incidents that occured in last season's NCAA tournament.
"Our leadership on the bench was great tonight and it wasn't just guys with letters," Fuchs said. "Everyone was stepping up, everyone was keeping everyone else calm and cool; it was a collective effort from everyone tonight to get in the game, stay in the game, and just go out there and win your next shift."
"I think I was channeling my college coach, Casey Jones, and think I yelled "survive" about ten times. I don't know...it was something special. Team effort all the way around and it was great."