ADRIAN, Mich. – The Adrian College men's hockey team knew they were in for a battle against St. Scholastica on Saturday night in the semifinals of the NCHA Harris Cup. The Saints and Bulldogs have a brief history but one of close games and this one was no exception. For the fourth time in six career matchups, the teams battled into overtime. The Bulldogs were looking to avenge last season's loss to the Saints in the same round of the Harris Cup at Arrington Ice Arena. St. Scholastica won 4-3 a year ago and Adrian flipped the score and won 4-3 in the extra session to advance to the Harris Cup Final next Saturday, March 7 against second-seeded St. Norbert.
The tone was set early in this contest as the Saints took it to the Bulldogs and led 1-0 after 20 minutes. The Bulldogs could have easily trailed by more than one goal as St. Scholastica had several quality scoring chances and fired 17 shots on goal. Dave Williams scored 23 seconds into the game on a turnover behind the net by freshman Blake Butzow. Keegan Bruce stole the puck and fed it to a streaking Williams who quickly fired it past Adrian goaltender Scott Shackell.
The Bulldogs matched the intensity and physical play offered by the visitors in the second period and got the tying goal late in the period. Freshman Kyle Brothers scored his 21st of the season on the power play at 16:08. Josh Ranalli and Ryan Gieseler each had an assist as Ranalli's shot was rebounded and Brothers tucked the puck inside the right post for his eighth power play goal of the season. The Saints took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission as Michael Spring scored at 19:07 from Derek Sutliffe and Brandon Parrone. Spring's fifth of the season was a shot five-hole between the circles after the Saints carried a 4-on-2 into their offensive zone. The second period shot totals were 13-11 in favor of Adrian.
Dylan Nowakowski gave St. Scholastica a 3-1 lead at 13:31 of the third period on a shot from the upper right circle. Nowakowski's 12th goal of the season was assisted by Luke Simpson. The game really changed just 11 seconds later when senior Duston Hebebrand abruptly scored his 13th goal of the season to cut the lead to 3-2. Kevin Balas and Blake Butzow worked the puck to the captain and gave new life to the team and home crowd.
With the game hanging in the balance, Adrian pulled Shackell with 1:24 left in regulation and called timeout 12 seconds later. Hebebrand fired a shot wide from the right point and also shot on goal during the final flurry. Thompson notched the game-tying goal at 19:25 with an empty-netter to the top right corner with assists from Brothers and Ryan Lowe. Lowe with a few ticks left also cut to the net and just missed a chance to end the game.
Adrian carried the momentum into overtime after a 15-minute ice cleaning and had three shots on goal before the Saints' Ryan Cooper stopped a potential breakaway by tripping Hebebrand near center ice. The power play lasted 1:02 before Brothers sent the Bulldogs through to the final with a similar goal to his first earlier in the game. Thompson and Ranalli each had an assist and Thompson's shot in front was stopped and Brothers slipped the rebound past the goal line.
"It was a great feeling knowing that I was able to send us through in the tournament," said Brothers. "I know to charge the side of the net in those situations and was in the right place at the right time. This was such a great game and I'm glad we get to advance."
The Bulldogs nearly evened out the shot total after the lopsided first period as CSS had a 39-38 edge. Adrian made the plays on the power play going 2-for-5 giving them 12 games this season with multiple power play goals. Shackell stood tall with 36 saves while Tyler Bruggeman stopped 34 shots for the Saints. Adrian's penalty kill went 3-for-3 and over the last eight games is 28-of-29 on the penalty kill (96.5 percent).
"I think we are still trying to figure out why we have slow starts," said head coach Adam Krug. "Our guys had their backs against the wall down 3-1 and I told the next guys to respond quickly. Our captain proved why he wears the "C" because he answered and put them on their heels a little bit. Our bench was energized and we executed from that point. I'm proud of the fight in this group and we look forward to the championship against a talented St. Norbert team. It should be another great matchup and I hope we fire away from the beginning."