ADRIAN, Mich. – It was a night that Adrian College fans will not forget as the second-seeded Bulldogs and third-seeded Saints of St. Scholastica dueled in the NCHA Harris Cup Semifinals. The game had as many plot twists as an Oscar-nominated film and ended with the visitors claiming the upset by the score of 4-3. These two teams played a similarly tough two-game series earlier in the season at Arrington Ice Arena with a tie and overtime win by the Bulldogs. The intensity was higher than normal considering the one-and-done pressure of the postseason tournament setting.
The Bulldogs began the scoring at 5:35 of the first period as Kevin Balas scored his ninth goal of the season and second against the Saints. He also had the goal in the 1-1 tie back on January 17. Balas crashed the net and cleaned up a rebound after a blast from Austin Hervey and poked the puck past the goal line. Jake Flegel along with Hervey had assists on the game's first goal.
The Saints received a gift to tie the game at 1-1 at the 13:10 mark of the first. Adrian goaltender James Hamby misplayed the puck behind his own net and the giveaway went to the stick of Paul Marcoux who fed Alex Valenti all alone in front of an empty net for his eighth goal of the season. Adrian would answer before the end of the period at 18:46 as Adam Davies scored his first career goal. Davies playing in his 46th game on defense took a slapshot from the top right wing through traffic with Brett Pinkerton getting an assist.
The second period was plugging along with very little drama, but that would all change once the Bulldogs took back-to-back penalties to give St. Scholastica a 5-on-3 power play at the 18:22 mark. Brandon Nowakowski wasted little time scoring his 16th of the season just 12 seconds into the two-man advantage. He fired a one-timer from the right circle after a feed from his brother Dylan Nowakowski to tie it up at 2-2. Plenty of time remained on the power play and that is when things got interesting. The second period was drawing to a close when Dylan Nowakowski snuck the puck into the net with one second left. The green light went on as the puck crossed the goal line and the officials allowed the goal to stand and shift momentum dramatically in favor of the Saints. The 3-2 lead after 40 minutes saw assists to Matt Malenstyn and Brandon Nowakowski on the go-ahead goal which was Dylan Nowakowski's ninth of the season.
The Bulldogs shook off the late power play goals in the third and tied the game at 3-3 at the 1:36 mark. Josh Ranalli scored his 21st of the season on a re-direct near the left post from a Justin Basso pass. The Saints received another fortuitous goal at 3:07 of the third which proved to be the game-winning goal. A sharp angle shot got under the pads of Hamby and the goaltender could not locate the puck as he fell to the ice. Valenti pushed the puck across for his second goal of the game unassisted.
It appeared that the Bulldogs tied the game again at the 3:30 mark as Josh Cousineau chopped at the puck in the crease as the red light went on. The officials met with the goal judge for a few minutes off the ice and determined that no goal was scored. The Bulldogs had a power play chance at the 5:14 mark on a hitting after the whistle call against Derek Hills. Adrian had no shots on net during the two-minute span and could not muster the game tying goal despite pulling Hamby with 43 seconds to play. The margin between ending in regulation and pushing it to overtime was inches as Adrian also had a few chances with the puck near or on the goal line. Tyler Bruggeman had a stressful night with 41 saves as Adrian had 15 shots alone in the third. Hamby made 20 saves falling to 11-2-3 in net this season.
Despite just two losses all season, the Bulldogs will not appear in a conference tournament final for the first time in the program's seven years. They must now await a potential at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. The selection occurs Sunday, March 9 and a breakdown of how the field is determined can be found at the following URL (http://d3hockey.com/bracketology/men/13-14/selection-process).