NCAA Division III National Championship Game: St. Norbert's College(Wi) 4 Adrian College(Mi) 3
Lost in the shuffle of all of Saturday's Division I NCAA tournament action, Division III held their championship at Minnesota's Ridder Arena, and I decided to attend. I didn't see Don Lucia there, which was weird because I heard he was free this weekend.There was a pretty good, and really passionate crowd on hand however. I haven't seen a figure, but I'd ballpark it at around 1000 people--which is more than I can say for some of the crowds in St. Louis this weekend--and by the end of the game, everyone was on their feet, which is what you want from a championship game.
It was a very entertaining back and forth game, with St. Norbert's hanging on through a scoreless third period to win 4-3. It continuously disappoints me that fans at the D-I level tend to act like there is a huge gap between the level of play at the D-1 level and the D-3 level. There is without a doubt a gap, but I don't think it is quite as wide as people think. In most cases, the players are missing just that one extra thing that kept them from playing Division I hockey. Maybe it was a little bit of size, maybe it was an unwillingness to play an extra year or two grinding things out in junior hockey, maybe things just didn't line up correctly.
There were definitely some familiar names on both sides. One of St. Norbert's leading scorers was Seth Soley, who left Michigan Tech last year after never being able to get on the same page as the coaching staff in Houghton. As a side note, Soley's situation brings about an interesting philosophical question I posed on Twitter: Would it better to play for one of the worst Division I programs, or play for the best Division III program? Early returns have D-III leading 2-1, and I'm sure Soley had a lot more fun this year at SNC.
Playing in goal for SNC was B.J. O'Brien, who spent a year as the third stringer in St. Cloud before pursuing an option where he would see the ice. Adrian's top defenseman was Quinn Waller, who at one point was committed to play for Nebraska-Omaha before some Clearinghouse issues forced him to look at Adrian. AC's top forward was Shawn Skelly, a veteran of some of Jon Cooper's great St. Louis teams in the NAHL, that drew some Division I interested before academics made him look at Division III.
Maybe none of the players in this game would have been stars at the D-I level, but it's also worth remembering that if it hadn't been for a last minute phone call, Shawn Hunwick probably would have been starting this game for Adrian rather than leading Michigan into the Frozen Four on the same night. Sometimes it's just a matter of finding the right opportunity.
Congratulations go out to St. Norbert's on a hard-fought title win, which is their second since 2008. Congratulations also go out to Adrian College, which has done some tremendous things for a program that started just four years ago under head coach Ron Fogarty. The seniors that played their last game tonight for Adrian come into a brand new program as freshmen and left with a 102-12-2 career record.