Kootenay International Junior Hockey League alumni, Caige Sterner (Kimberley Dynamiters – 2015-17) and Ethan Paulin-Hatch (Kamloops Storm – 2017-2020) helped the Lindenwood University Lions win the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Men’s Division I National Championship.
The Lions won the national title with an 8-3 victory over No. 6 seed Central Oklahoma Tuesday night at the Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights, Missouri. Sterzer had a goal and set up another on the power-play.
The Bronchos came out strong and had some of the first scoring chances of the game in the opening minutes, but Lindenwood kept UCO at bay and the puck out of the net. Eventually, the Lions
were able to grab some momentum and after a Bronchos penalty, David Gagnon made it 1-0 with a one-timer over the goalie’s shoulders at the 9:23 mark. Lindenwood increased its advantage to 2-0 when Jackson Wozniak buried a backdoor rebound into an open net at 11:21. The play was set up with a pass from Hayden Ursulak to Ryan Finnegan who put the puck towards the net, creating the scoring chance.
It looked like the Lions were taking control of the contest, but Central Oklahoma had other ideas and tied the game late in the period. The first goal came when the Bronchos fired the puck towards the right side of Lindenwood goalie Trent Burnham. A UCO player was waiting with his stick on the ice to tip the puck into the net on a nice set-up at 16:23. The tying score came with just 1:54 remaining when the Bronchos created traffic in front of Burnham and slipped the puck through the five-hole. Burnham thought he had stopped it, but the puck trickled past the line. The opening 20-minutes expired with the game knotted 2-2.
Lindenwood had the majority of shots in the second, but UCO held the Lions at bay for the most part. The only goal of the period came on a Lions power play. It looked like Lindenwood might score early in the man-advantage, but a great shot bounced off the crossbar. Later in the power play, Caleb Price helped move the puck to Caige Sterzer who fed it across the slot for a Kyle Jeffers one-timer at 6:07 to make it 3-2 Lindenwood.
The Lions finally took control in the third. Finnegan won an offensive zone faceoff which sent the puck to Jeffers for a blast into the net at 3:19 to make it 4-2. Lindenwood increased its advantage to 5-2 at 7:35. The Lions were again enjoying some offensive puck control when Mitch Allard passed to Finley who blasted a shot off the end boards, creating a juicy rebound that Vegard Faret buried from the left faceoff circle area.
As the Bronchos were trying desperately to hang on and mount any type of comeback, things began to get a bit more chippy, resulting in several penalty calls. Lindenwood took every advantage with back-to-back power play goals in the latter half of the period. Price made a brilliant pass through the crease from the left side to the right side for an easy tap-in from Sterzer at 12:53. Then, Andy Willis went top shelf for an unassisted effort at 15:12 to make it 7-2 Lions. The final Lindenwood goal came from Brendan Murphy unassisted at 15:53. UCO drew a penalty and scored with 3:32 left in regulation, but the outcome was already in sight.
The Lions outshot the Bronchos 43 to 22 and Burnham made 19 saves on the 22 shots he faced to earn the championship win in goal. Special teams proved to be a major factor for the Lindenwood victory as the team went 4/6 on the power play and held Central Oklahoma to just one score on four man-advantage chances.
With the win, the Lions conclude the season with an overall record of 22-3-0, the only losses coming to NCAA teams early in the season. Lindenwood wins the ACHA Men’s Division I title for the fourth time overall and the first time since 2016.
In 20 games as a freshman, Sterzer finished third on the Lions in points with 10 goals and 19 assists. He added another four goals and an assist in four playoff games. Paulin-Hatch saw action in three regular season games, winning each of them.
The KIJHL also had alumni on the Bronchos team from the Columbia Valley Rockies in Cooper Krause, Fraser McMahon, Davin Burton and goalie Ben Kelsch.