Tyler Zetting, the starting goalie for Western Washington University's men's hockey team, made a promise early in the season.
"I don't know why I said this, but I promised the whole team Nesquik if we won the national championship," he said.
What started out as a joke from the senior goalie quickly became the team's mantra.
After each win, Zetting said the team would chant "one game closer to Nesquik" in the locker room, and the rumblings only grew louder once they arrived in Buffalo, N.Y. for the National Association of Intercollegiate Hockey Championships on March 15.
Four games and three days later the Vikings were national champions, and it wasn't champagne they were looking to celebrate with.
"The first thing we chanted after we won, as we were taking our pictures, the whole team started chanting, 'Nesquik,'" Zetting said. "Everyone in that rink was like, 'What are they saying?' And I had to buy everyone Nesquik."
WWU (23-8) reaped its long-sought reward after defeating Le Moyne College 2-1 in overtime on March 17, off a put-back goal by Derek Bender - his third of the tournament.
Bender's goal, as far as WWU coach John Dougan was concerned, took a little too long to reach the back of the net
"(Nik Tool) got in front for a chance, and then Bender was there banging in the rebound," Dougan said in a phone interview. "It was end over end because it was a rolling puck when he got it, and it just rolled over the goalie into the net. ... It seemed like a long time before the puck actually hit the net."
The goal also saved WWU from squandering the 1-0 lead it held since mid-way through the first period.
With 1:04 remaining in the third period, the Vikings surrendered the tying goal to Le Moyne's Justin Cunningham. It was the first goal Zetting had allowed in 133 minutes dating back to a quarterfinal matchup between D'Youville College.
"They shot it through a maze of players, and I still don't know where it went," Zetting said. "I just heard it hit the back of the net. I still hear that back pad hit - that soft thud - and I was so deflated (because we) were so close."
Responding to adversity had become an all-too-familiar practice for the Vikings, something they had employed far earlier than the 1:04 mark in the championship game.
WWU lost its first game of the tournament to the lowest seeded team in the field, Ventura Community College, 4-3 in overtime.
Based solely off of familiar opponents, the Vikings were the clear favorites entering the tournament. WWU had defeated Santa Rosa Community College 9-3 earlier in the season, the same Santa Rosa team that defeated Ventura 11-1.
It wasn't as though WWU didn't have its chances to win, Dougan said.
"We outplayed them pretty badly. We out shot them pretty badly, but they just got some pretty lucky goals and we couldn't score," Dougan said. "We didn't play as well defensively as we normally do. We gave them a few too many chances because I think we were getting frustrated because we couldn't score on the other end."
Not a word was spoken in the locker room, Zetting said.
And words really weren't needed - WWU knew all it could control was winning the next game, Dougan said.
"We can't change (the loss); you can only learn from it," Dougan said. "The kids did a real good job of that. They let it go and it was over. They regrouped and refocused and it kind of snowballed from there."
The Vikings responded by pulling out a tough 2-1 win over D'Youville and a redemptive 5-0 win over Ventura in the semifinals, propelling WWU into the championship game.
Zetting, who was honored as the tournament's MVP, reclaimed his poise in the net and allowed just one goal over the two elimination games.
Safe to say, his solid play in the net wasn't much of a surprise.
Zetting has anchored a defense that has helped the Vikings go a combined 47-10 over the past two seasons. During the championship run, Zetting allowed just 1.34 goals per game with a 96.5 save percentage.
"He's been great for us, and he gives the rest of the team a lot of confidence," Dougan said of his senior goalie. "Having one of the top goalies in the league in the net helps us big time."
When asked about being acknowledged as the tournament MVP, he left little praise for himself.
"Kyle Neal played forward all year, but because we had a couple guys out with injuries, he had to play defense for the first time all year, and did such a great job," Zetting said. "They were blocking shots, taking hits and they were clearing away rebounds for me."