Dozens of former players from the NAHL had a significant impact for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds as they captured their first ever NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey National Championship this past weekend. They completed the task with a come-from-behind victory over the Oswego State Lakers, 5-3.
Out of the 28 players on the Wisconsin-Eau Claire roster, 23 of those players are NAHL alums including goaltender Brandon Stephenson (Traverse City North Stars), who made 27 saves in the Championship Game.
All four members from Wisconsin Eau-Claire that were named to the All-Tournament team were also NAHL alums.
NCAA Division III National Championship All-Tournament Team
Forward: Jordan Singer (Eau Claire, Bismarck Bobcats)
Forward: Kurt Weston (Eau Claire, North Iowa Outlaws)
Forward: Chris Muise (Oswego)
Defense: Drew Darwitz (Eau Claire, Fairbanks Ice Dogs)
Defense: Bobby Gertsakis (Oswego)
Goalie: Brandon Stephenson (Eau Claire, Traverse City North Stars)
Most Oustanding Player: Jordan Singer (Eau Claire, Bismarck Bobcats)
“Obviously, a good game, back and forth,” Eau Claire coach Matt Loen said. “I was a little nervous there getting behind the eight ball, 2-0. We’ve had a couple of games earlier this year where we struggled to score goals, and I was hoping tonight wasn’t going to be that night.”
It was scoreless midway through the first period, and then the floodgates opened. Oswego scored twice in a 31-second span, only to have Eau Claire chip away to tie it before the period ended.
Eau Claire refused to fold even when they were down 2-0 early, and their efforts paid off at 14:25 when Jordan Singer (Bismarck Bobcats) put the Blugolds on the scoreboard during a power play. He fired a wrist shot from the left point which sailed past Andrew Hare.
Eau Claire continued to apply the pressure, and Andrew Wilcox tied it up with 53.6 seconds left in the opening stanza from in front after the puck took an odd bounce off the boards behind the net right onto his tape.
Daniel Olszewski (St. Louis Bandits) gave the Blugolds their first lead of the game at 6:29 of the second period. Eau Claire outnumbered Oswego down low as Wilcox got off a shot. Hare left a fat rebound the other way, and Olszewski was right there to put it into the open near side.
“With two, three guys crashing the net, a rebound will be there,” Olszewski said. “I just followed up and the rebound was right there. I had an open net, and I was sure glad I didn’t miss it.”
Eau Claire maintained the style they wanted to play against Oswego, though the Lakers did get their chances, none more so when they had a two-man advantage, but missed on open nets, either by fanning on their shots or shooting it wide.
“We had a great penalty kill all year,” tournament Most Outstanding Player Singer said. “To kill off that five-on-three was a big deal. We really took that and ran with it.”
Devin Mantha (son of Michigan Warriors head coach Moe Mantha) put the dagger in Oswego, taking advantage of a pressing Lakers team. Jared Williams (Alpena Ice Diggers) at center ice saw a streaking Mantha splitting the defenders at the blue line. Williams fed him with a perfect pass to send Mantha in on the breakaway, and he slipped the puck between Hare’s legs at 7:20.
Eau Claire hung on and clinched the game with Kurt Weston’s (North Iowa Outlaws) empty-net tally, giving the NCHA it’s third consecutive national championship.
“We brought in skill this year and scoring,” Loen said. “We’ve always been strong defensively. That was the difference this year. A great accomplishment for our program and all the guys in that locker room. They worked hard.”