ADRIAN, Mich. – The 2014-15 Adrian College men's hockey team is back on top of the mountain after a one-year hiatus as Harris Cup champions. The second-ranked Bulldogs (23-3-3) defeated fifth-ranked St. Norbert (20-6-2) in the final on Saturday night at Arrington Ice Arena by the score of 4-2. It was the third win over the Green Knights this season on home ice and vaults the Bulldogs into the upcoming NCAA Division III Tournament.
"We were very focused heading into this game because St. Norbert demands your full attention," said head coach Adam Krug, who hoisted the Harris Cup for the first time as head coach of the program. "I'm so proud of the guys and their commitment to this program. We have a tradition at Adrian College of winning and it feels good to bring the cup back to Adrian. Tonight's game was eerily similar to the first two games against St. Norbert. They had a little more push in the first period but we responded in the second and third with maximum effort. We are now one step closer to the ultimate program goal and look forward to finding out when we land in the tournament field."
Adrian got the game's first big break at 8:35 of the first as the Green Knights played the puck back towards their own net while goaltender Tony Kujava was well out of the crease. Kujava had to throw his stick at the puck to prevent it from being an own goal and in the process pushed the puck out of harm's way. The referee awarded a delay of game penalty and also a penalty shot for the Bulldogs. Freshman Kyle Brothers, the team's leading goal scorer, was wisely selected to take the opportunity and buried it to the top left corner on the forehand for his 23rd goal of the season.
Adrian led by a goal heading into the second period despite being outshot 15-9. Pijus Rulevicius tied the game at 3:29 of the second with his 10th goal of the season. AC thought that an icing was going to be called but the linesman waved it off at the last second. The letdown led to an advantage by St. Norbert and they cashed in. Rulevicius went let a wrister go from the top of the left circle into the top right corner with an assist from Chris Rial.
The Bulldogs quickly regained the lead at 5:08 on a great looking two-man game between Josh Ranalli and Mathew Thompson. Ranalli fed the puck in front of the crease to Thompson who swiveled around Kujava to shoot into an open net for his 21st tally this year. Brothers also had an assist on the goal.
"I am so thrilled to be able to step up as a freshman and win the cup for our seniors," said Thompson. "This is the last kick at it for them and it is surreal to be on the ice with such talented guys. Ranalli and I teamed up for a big goal and we are doing it for all those that support us."
The Bulldogs kept the pressure on and added to their lead at 11:06 as senior Ryan Gieseler scored his third of the season with assists from Ranalli and Duston Hebebrand. Gieseler skated past the blue line and just north of the circles before letting a slapshot go through traffic into the top right corner for a two-goal cushion.
"I'm not known for scoring goals but saw an opportunity and made the most of it," said Gieseler. "Ranalli made a nice play at the blue line and made a perfect pass onto my stick. We are really looking forward to making it back to the NCAA Tournament and a lot of us have experience in that setting. After a loss last year, we can't wait to make amends and hopefully win a national championship."
Adrian took a penalty late in the second as Pat George went off for roughing at 17:22. St. Norbert fired three shots wide and had one on net in a flurry of pressure before getting a break. Marian Fiala shot the puck off an Adrian defenseman and it deflected into the goal at 18:33 with assists from Cullen Bradshaw and Tyler Zepeda. Adrian held a 3-2 heading into the second intermission and came out in the third with stingy defense. The Green Knights managed just three shots on goal in the third including two on two power play chances. The period was halted with 7:03 remaining as a pane of glass shattered right in front of the scorer's booth which delayed the game for about 30 minutes.
After the lengthy delay, the pace did not miss a beat. The teams traded possession in the neutral zone until St. Norbert was forced to pull Kujava with 1:17 left. Adrian gained control of the puck and Chris Leone came from behind his own net and fired the length of the ice for an empty-net goal at 19:04 sending the Arrington crowd into a frenzy. Both teams used a timeout in the final 56 seconds and the Bulldogs held on for the win.
Brothers was named the tournament Most Valuable Player with three goals and six assists in four games. Thompson and Ranalli were named to the All-Tournament Team. Thompson had five goals and three assists during the cup run while Ranalli had seven assists. Gieseler was also named to the All-Tournament Team on defense. He scored the championship game-winner and had two goals and a plus-2 rating during the Harris Cup playoffs.
"I'm honored to be named the MVP and all the hard work paid off," said Brothers. "This group of guys are so great and to win the Harris Cup with them is awesome. I had an early chance on the penalty shot and got it past a tough goaltender. That first goal really sets the tone and I'm just happy to be moving onto the NCAA Tournament."
Scott Shackell made 22 saves including 15 in the first period. He improved to 17-1-3 in net this season. The team will find out their next opponent during the NCAA Selection Show which will air on NCAA.com on Monday, March 9 at 10:30 a.m.