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Final NCHA meeting between UWS, St. Scholastica memorable

Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey players mobbed Ryan Pinoniemi with congratulatory hugs shortly after the Yellowjackets' game on Thursday with

St. Scholastica, and it was for good reason.

Not only did the freshman goalie withstand a 5-on-3 for nearly the final 2 minutes, but he went most of the last minute without his stick as UWS held on for a 4-3 victory before 632 fans at Mars Lakeview Arena. It was the final Northern Collegiate Hockey Association matchup between the rivals as the league will dissolve after the season.

"Both teams fought hard, but we were able to survive those final three minutes," UWS coach Dan Stauber said. "Scrambles around the net -- that's what hockey is all about. There were potential heroes all around, for both sides, but we were just fortunate to come out on top. Usually in those situations (5-on-3s), it ends up the other way around."

Pinoniemi, of Delano, Minn., finished with 27 saves, but perhaps none bigger than the pad save he made after a shot from the point by Saints winger Tyler Miller just before the final buzzer as the Saints pulled their goalie, giving them yet another attacker.

Pinoniemi graduated from Delano High School last spring and was fifth in the state last winter with a .927 save percentage. He skipped junior hockey to get on with his schooling. He plans on majoring in criminal justice and would like to be a federal agent with the Secret Service one day.

What Pinoniemi might lack in fundamentals he makes up for with hard work and grit.

"That was my first game against St. Scholastica, and I just wanted to do my best to keep my team in it," Pinoniemi said.

"I didn't have my stick for about 40 seconds there at the end. I've lost it for longer stretches before, but never in a situation quite like that. That one will be tough to top."

UWS (11-8-1 overall, 6-6-1 NCHA) snapped a five-game losing streak. The Yellowjackets have had to rely on younger players after starting goalie Drew Strandberg and three defensemen went down with injuries.

St. Scholastica (7-12-1, 3-9-1), meanwhile, came in on a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1). The Saints stumbled to a 1-5 start to the season. While they've played better lately, they are still struggling with consistency.

"We just dug ourselves in a hole, and by the time we got it going, it was too little, too late," Saints coach Mark Wick said. "We aren't playing 60 minutes. We've got seniors who aren't making good plays, aren't making good decisions. If a freshman does that, it's one thing, but if a senior does that, it's inexcusable. We have to decide if it's worth it or not, and apparently, by Jan. 24, we haven't decided yet. We've had a bunch of wakeup calls, but we keep hitting the snooze button."

Brett Corcoran led St. Scholastica with two goals, including one midway through the first period to open the scoring and another to knot it 2-2 early in the third period.

That is where UWS took over, with senior Josh Kesler scoring a pair of goals as the Yellowjackets led 4-2 with just over 5 minutes to play.

The Saints, however, weren't done as UWS' Wes Judnick received a five-minute penalty for face masking and Ryan Hill was called for slashing just three minutes later.

Even so, St. Scholastica could only manage one Dave Williams power-play goal at 17:02. After that, Pinoniemi and the penalty kill unit of Kyle Leahy, Brett Wold and Jeff Forsythe tightened up.

While it might be the last NCHA matchup between the Saints and Yellowjackets, the teams could still meet as part of the nonconference schedule.

"For the last NCHA meeting between the teams, you couldn't get much better than that," Kessler said. "It was unbelievable -- just a great way for the two teams to go out."

Wisconsin-Superior 2-0-2--4

St. Scholastica 1-0-2--3

First period -- 1. CSS, Brett Corcoran (Alex Valenti, Tyler Miller), 8:21; 2. UWS, Joey Massingham (Pat Dalbec), 9:12; 3. UWS, Michael Rey (Andy Singerhouse), 13:37.

Second period -- No scoring.

Third period -- 4. CSS, Corcoran (Miller, Valenti), 2:05; 5. UWS, Josh Kesler, 9:03; 6. UWS, Kesler (Michael Rey), 14:14; 7. CSS, Dave Williams (Corcoran), 17:02 (pp).

Saves -- Ryan Pinoniemi, UWS, 27; Tyler Bruggeman, CSS, 29.