The Hope College ice hockey team felt like it had the potential to go the distance last season before Covid-19 spoiled its opportunity.
The Flying Dutchmen didn't miss out on a second chance.
Top-ranked Hope won an American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 3 national championship on Tuesday night after blanking Arkansas 3-0 at Pat Patterson Ice Arena in Grand Rapids.
It's the program's second national title after also winning in 2018.
"This feels really good, especially after getting cut short last year," said senior defenseman Cole Stenstrom, who was on the 2018 squad as a freshman. We felt like we got (robbed) of an opportunity, and this year we wanted to make the most of it. We did our best to prepare for it and we did it."
A pair of second-period goals from sophomores Mason Weiss and Gabe Gunneson helped spark the Flying Dutchmen to the win.
Hope coach Chris Van Timmeren said this national title was even more special due to the challenges of the pandemic.
"It's been so tough for these kids with Covid, and they had to go through all the testing three times a week," he said. "The mental strain of am I going to play this week made it tougher so for these guys to win in a year of Covid is so impressive and to do it in the fashion they did this week makes me so proud of them."
The Flying Dutchmen rallied from a three-goal deficit in Monday's national semifinal to reach the national title game.
Hope relied on its defense and penalty killing to shut down a potent Razorbacks' offense.
"The past couple games we had a bit of a slow start so we knew if we came out tonight and had a good start then we had a good feeling we could win," said Hope junior goalie Lukas Schut, who was named to the all-tournament team.
"We were pretty confident going into the third period, and we probably had more blocks than they had shots on net so that showed the heart we have in this room. The guys did everything to get the win, and playing for a national championship is something you dream of as a kid."
Van Timmeren said defense was a major factor early.
"They have a lot of offensive talent and our defense did a great job of keeping everything in front of them," he said. "They made sure if there were any rebounds they cleared them so Schut didn't have to deal with them.
"We knew that it was going to be a long game and that we had to weather the storm a little bit from them until we wore them out. We've been playing those tough competitive games and we just let it play out and kept working hard and it paid off."
After a scoreless first period, Weiss found an opening and snuck in a power-play goal with 6:17 left in the second period.
"The first goal, we've talked about it the whole tournament is one of the biggest things in a game," Weiss said. "That was a big momentum shift for the team and we kept going with it.
"This is pretty surreal, and it's been a blast of a ride. I'm so thankful and glad I'm here for it."
Gunneson added to the Hope lead in the closing seconds of the period. Coleman Stenstrom and Nicholas Stamas were credited with assists.
Ashton Bol sealed it with an empty-net goal in the final two minutes.
"This is a very skilled team that had the opportunity every time we played to win by multiple goals," Van Timmeren said. "I knew from the beginning that this was a special group that was going to make something happen at the end of the year."