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NAHL grads lead UW-Stevens Point to NCAA title

March 28, 2016

19 NAHL graduates helped the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to the NCAA Division III National Championship.

Playing in their third national championship game in three years, Wisconsin-Stevens Point finally earned that elusive NCAA Division III national title with a complete 5-1 win over St. Norbert this past Saturday. The Pointers turned the tables on the Green Knights, scoring three power-play goals to break open a close game, and earned their fifth national championship and first since 1993.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Stevens Point roster was laden with North American Hockey League (NAHL) graduates… 19 in all.  Now they can all call themselves NCAA National Champions.
One of those players who stepped up this weekend was Eliot Grauer, who wound up being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Grauer is a veteran of two full NAHL seasons, totaling 112 games, most recently playing for the Wichita Falls Wildcats in the 2012-13 season.
Grauer scored twice in Friday’s game against Geneseo, playing a key role in the victory. Then Saturday, even though that big line did produce the last three goals, it was Grauer who scored the first goal of the night to get things going.
“He was excellent this weekend,” head coach Chris Brooks said. “Talented, talented kid. Can’t say enough about his skill set. He’s a great player in Division III.”
Grauer ended this season with 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points. But none were as important as the three goals in Lake Placid. “It feels good,” he said. “It was a team effort. It was the work we did all year that got us here.”
“Eliot was excellent both nights,” continued Brooks. “We don’t win many hockey games without Kyle Sharkey (Topeka), Lawrence Cornellier (Fairbanks/Odessa) and that line scoring goals for us. We did last night and Eliot was a big part of that. I thought all our guys stepped up, especially after Joe Kalisz (St. Louis) went down.”
After Stevens Point scored first, the Knights answered with a power-play goal of their own, sort of, when Tanner Froese was credited with a goal that was re-directed off the stick of the Pointers’ Lawrence Cornellier past Max Milosek (Port Huron) and the game was tied with just over 10 minutes remaining in the period.
“Lawrence is an emotional player,” Brooks said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and I told him that what is done is done. Go make up for it and he did — boy did he make up for it. I think they had six or seven quality chances on the shift before they scored and he made the most of his opportunity later.”
Alex Brooks (Aberdeen/Kalamazoo/Janesville/Wichita Falls) then scored the eventual game winner with just over one minute remaining in the opening period when he launched into a loose puck between the circles and blasted it past a helpless Kujava for a 2-1 lead they would build on through the next two periods.
“I was disappointed that I hit the post on the first chance,” Brooks said. “The second one I just wanted to make sure of it.”
St. Norbert, coming off a double-overtime game that went late into the night on Friday, showed good energy in the second period but neither team could convert on some good opportunities due to the strong play of Kujava and Milosek.
Late in the second period, the Pointers scored an insurance goal as Kyle Sharkey scored with under 90 seconds remaining in the period for a 3-1 lead entering the third period.
“At 2-1, we are still OK after the first period,” said St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin. “We were looking for that big event to turn the tide and we thought if we got to 2-2, then that could be the momentum shift. At 3-1, we were back in the room talking about taking too many penalties, something that was a problem for us all year, and we couldn’t get the tide to change. They went 3-for-3 on the power play, three in a row and that hurt us tonight.”
In the third period, the Pointers took advantage of St. Norbert pressing to get back in the game and the line of Jacob Barber (Wenatchee/Alaska), Sharkey and Cornellier accounted for two goals to remove all doubt from the outcome.
Cornellier made up for his “own goal” by cashing in on a beautiful feed from Sharkey on a two-on-one break created by beautiful passing from their defensive end. Barber completed the scoring just a few minutes later on another great back-door pass and the Knights had no response to the Pointers’ game.
For captain Eric Dixon, there was a sense of satisfaction in finishing the goal by winning the national title.
“Our guys really bought in and stepped up so we could be on the winning end of the championship game this year,” Dixon said. “It was a total team effort and I am really proud to be part of this team and this championship run.”
The national championship avenged a loss in the title game to St. Norbert in 2014 when the Frozen Four was played in Lewiston, Maine.
Congratulations to all of the NAHL alums who are now NCAA National Champions!
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