Bethel Hockey Claims National Championship!
It is believed to be only the second national team championship for Bethel. The Bethel soccer team won the NAIA title in 2008.
The Wildcats had overcome early setbacks, losses to West Chester and UC-Santa Barbara before getting on a roll and securing the third seed in pool play. Bethel took down Ohio State, defending national champion Long Beach State, Eastern Michigan before dispatching the Runnin' Rebels Saturday night.
"I'm trying not getting emotional," said head coach Matt Swinea. "To make it to the Elite Eight was an accomplishment, to get to the Final Four was great and to win the national championship is just surreal; I couldn't be more proud of a bunch of guys."
Bethel was badly outshot by UNLV, 40-20, but Wildcat goalkeeper Ewen MacPherson turned away 37 of the 40 shots against.
Josh Foote had the hat trick and an assist to lead the 'Cats. Cole Sonstelle had a goal and two assists in the victory.
"Big guys show up in big games, but I don't want to single out anybody; this is a total team effort," said the coach.
Bethel had a large contingent of fans at the event and the Wildcats, following their post-game dog pile on the floor, received their national-championship plaque to a chorus of loud cheers.
"This is big for the school and the school supported me. It's been a battle getting it started and recruiting, but I couldn't be prouder," an emotional Swinea said. "We're going to lose one kid next year, Matt Sikes. He's going to to graduate in a couple of weeks. He had three tours in Iraq and is a part-time cop."
Bethel got off to a fast start, and then had to battle in the end. Foote's goal with 97 seconds to play proved to be the game winner.
With 4:11 left in the first, Foote raced toward the net, took the shot, collected his own rebound and stuck it in the net to give the Wildcats the early 1-0 lead. Moments later, Sonstelle seemingly scored on a wrap-around goal with 2:41 left in the first, but, inexplicably, the goal was waved off. That's how the
first ended, with Bethel leading 1-0.
That waved-off goal could have loomed large in the end, but the Wildcats didn't need it after all.
Bethel took advantage of the power play when Sonstelle scored on an assist from Foote with 8:41 to play in the second for a 2-0 lead. The Wildcats controlled the tempo for the remainder of the period and led 2-0 as the third period began.
In the third, UNLV tied the score. The Rebels scored with 8:18 to play on a power play goal from Andrew Temure, assisted by Anthony Robone. Bethel goalie MacPherson argued that the net had been knocked off its mooring before the puck crossed the line. The officials counted the goal anyway. Temure scored: 45
seconds later with an assist by Eddie Davis to tie the game at 2.
UNLV had the puck in front of the Bethel net, but Bethel reacquired Foote scored off an assist from Sonstelle with 3:58 to play on a break to take a 3-2 lead. UNLV, a minute and a half later, Nick Robone tied the game at 3.
Foote put the 'Cats back in front with 1:37 to play, 4-3, the assist came from Sonstelle and UNLV emptied its net for the man advantage.
The Wildcats had two men in the penalty box with less than 41 seconds to play, but they were able to defend win the last face off with less than six seconds remaining to nail it down.
"I was about to pass out (when the clock was about to wind down)," Swinea said. "I kept screaming 'win the face off' and they did."
Last season, the Wildcats lost a 5-4 heartbreaker to Miami-Fla. in the national Division 2 semifinals a year ago, played in Madison, Wis. The Wildcat hockey program has only been in existence for two seasons.
They were Southeast Roller Hockey Association regional champs in D-2 last year and stepped up to claim the Division 1 regional crown and the automatic bid to the national tournament.