club hockey team wins it all
By Jeff Febus
A cross-country trip produced a national championship for the Calvin men’s ice hockey club team. The Knights captured the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division III National Championship with a 5-0 victory over the University of Georgia. The championship game was played at the Alltel Ice Den — the practice facility of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes.
The victory over Georgia completed a three-day tournament run that saw Calvin rip off four straight victories to capture its first-ever national championship. Calvin finished the year with a sparkling 29-1 record, establishing a new Calvin single-season record for victories.
Calvin sophomore forward Max Sieplinga of Grand Rapids (Mich.) Christian High School was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player on offense and was given a spot on the all-tournament team for the second straight year. Sieplinga finished the tournament with four goals, four assists and a team-leading eight points in the tournament run.
Calvin opened the tournament with a 5-0 victory over the University of Richmond and then topped South Dakota State, 8-3.
In the semifinal contest, top-seeded Calvin met second-seeded Arizona State University, the host of the 16-team tournament. Trailing 1-0 early on, Calvin rallied for three first-period goals to take a 3-1 lead and then broke open a 3-2 lead with two goals in the third, including the clincher by junior Jason Koole (Grandville, Mich.) that finished off a 5-2 Calvin victory.
“That was a huge victory,” said Calvin coach Mike Petrusma, after the conclusion of the tournament. “We knew Arizona State was a high-flying offensive team, and we knew it would be difficult winning in its own backyard. That victory gave us a lot of confidence for the championship final.”
In the final, Calvin freshman goaltender Gregory Clark (LaPorte, Ind.) collected his second shutout of the tournament while the Knights scored once in the first and once in the second to take a 2-0 lead into the final period of play. Koole picked up Calvin’s first goal, with sophomore Nick VerKuyl (Whitby, Ont.) scoring the second goal for the Knights.
“We felt pretty good about a two-goal lead,” said Petrusma. “Our defense was sensational throughout the tournament, and we felt that two goals was good enough to get the job done. At the same time, we wanted to keep attacking when the opportunities were there.”
Calvin did just that, as Koole scored his team-leading sixth goal of the tournament early in the third period to give the Knights a 3-0 lead. Calvin then went up 4-0 on a goal by freshman Bryan Bandstra (Terrace, B.C.), only to suffer back-to-back penalties, which gave the Bulldogs a two-man advantage. It soon became a three-man advantage as Georgia lifted its goaltender, but Sieplinga made the Bulldogs pay as he won a face-off, beat a group of Georgia defenders on a sprint up the ice and lifted a shot into an empty Georgia net with 50 seconds left to play.
“Wow! What an accomplishment for this group of guys,” said Petrusma. “We have such a wonderful blend of players who play so well together. We’ve got players from West Michigan, Canada and all over the United States, but they’re like a group of brothers who always look out for each other. I’m just tickled pink to see this group win a national championship.”
Koole and VerKuyl were also named to the all-tournament team, with Koole leading the Knights in goals with six during the tournament run, while VerKuyl had seven points on the strength of two goals and five assists to tie VerKuyl for second on the Calvin tournament scoring list.
Prior to this season, Calvin had made two trips to the ACHA Division III Championships, finishing third both in 1993 and in 2003.
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