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May 19, 2012

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St. Thomas Clinches Dynasty, Rallies Past GVSU

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Ryan Zeilinger made 11 saves, including three clutch stops early in the fourth quarter, earning championship game MVP honors and helping St. Thomas capture its third MCLA Division II national championship in the last four years.

St. Thomas goalie Ryan Zeilinger made 11 saves, including six in the fourth quarter and three on point-blank shots during a man-down situation, helping the Tommies rally for a 9-8 victory over Grand Valley State in the MCLA Division II national championship game in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday night.

Zeilinger and his defense allowed St. Thomas (16-1) to rally twice from three-goal deficits in the first half and then held the high-powered Grand Valley State (18-2) offense to just a pair of goals in the final 24:03 of the contest.

"He struggled in the first half and we were contemplating making a goalie switch, but at the same time, Z has been clutch for us," said St. Thomas head coach Pete Moosbrugger. "We decided to give him some time to respond, and he did."

This is the third time in four years that the Tommies have won the MCLA title, and they become the first team in the eight-year history of the Division II tourney to win three crowns.

Title No. 3 looked anything but assured at the start of the game as Grand Valley made an effort to put this one away in the first quarter.

After the two teams traded goals in the first six minutes, the Lakers rattled off three straight. The run started with an Alex Christiaans rip from the left side and was capped by Tyler Farmer, who used a spin move to get his hands free and give GVSU a 4-1 lead with 4:11 remaining in the opening frame.

The Lakers had the ball and a man-up advantage after a slash called on St. Thomas, but a sloppy pass at the top of the box was pounced on by Tommies pole Sam Posl, creating a break for UST. Matt Kleven ran down the left alley and beat Danny Kransberger low to the far side for the shorthanded strike to trim the lead to 4-2 and break the Lakers momentum.

St. Thomas narrowed the lead further at the beginning of the second quarter when the ball popped out of Kransberger's stick after he made a nice save, and it dropped right into Kleven's stick. He finished over Kransberger's head to get within one.

After a lull in the action, GVSU went back to work and built the lead back up to three. Michael Garner bounced a shot past Ryan Zeilinger off a dish from Jack Dumsa. A little over a minute later, Jake Seiler brought the Laker crowd to their feet as the LSM went end-to-end and took a shot that trickled past Zeilinger for a 6-3 lead with 9:03 left in the half.

Grand Valley won the ensuing faceoff, but a turnover sparked the St. Thomas break, which was finished by David Burke off a feed from Peter Carbonneau 20 seconds after the Lakers' strike.

Kleven finished off his first-half hat trick by bullying his way past a GVSU short-stick middie and delivering a bounce shot to bring the Tommies to within one, 6-5 at the break.

St. Thomas grabbed its first lead of the game in the opening six minutes of the second half. David Chlipala delivered three minutes in before John Michael Coon easily finished a pass on the crease for a 7-6 lead.

Grand Valley tied the contest for the final time with 6:56 left in the third stanza when Garner pounded home a skip pass from Jeremy Pouba. Shortly after the opening of the final quarter, Joe Palermo powered his way to the net and beat Kransberger over the shoulder for a lead the Tommies would never lose, thanks to Zeilinger.

With Grand Valley State on a man-advantage for a minute, Zeilinger stoned three Laker attempts on cage – two with his stick and the third with a kick save. Kransberger did his job at the other end, however, as he thwarted three consecutive UST possessions and finished with 13 saves on the evening.

Finally Palermo broke through with a rocket from 13 yards off a dish from Peter Schubloom that ballooned the Tommies lead to 9-7 with 2:40 left in the contest. Pouba finished a crease feed from Dumsa with 1:34 left, but St. Thomas managed to burn off the remaining time for the championship.

"We survived that one," said Moosbrugger. "I'm not going to lie about that."

Kleven's three goals led UST while Palermo had a pair of goals and Will Hersman added a goal and an assist. Garner's two goals paced the Lakers. Dumsa and Pouba each added a goal and an assist for GVSU.

The win capped off a comeback season for the Tommies after they lost in the championship game last year.

"It's truly special," said Moosbrugger. "Thirty years down the road, these players can talk to their kids and grandkids and tell them that they did something special. Whatever happens in the future, we can say that we've done something that no one else has done."


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