Something Old, Something New
MCHA Play Begins With Old Powers And A New Addition
Lots of attention was paid to the Midwest this past Tuesday as George W. Bush and John Kerry battled for coveted electoral votes.
If only that much attention could be focused on Division III’s forgotten Midwestern league, the MCHA. Despite the lack of a true breakout team that could contend for top D-III honors, the MCHA has a few compelling storylines as conference play begins.
A Wise Choice for Marian
Let’s start with the Marian Sabres, who had their 14-2-0 league record diminished in the MCHA title game by Minnesota-Crookston for the second straight year. If that wasn’t unsettling enough, head coach Chris Brown decided to leave the Sabres for Hamline, and was promptly replaced by Jasen Wise–from Hamline.
Wise has a tough task ahead of him in trying to get the Sabres (0-2-0 in 2004-05) back on top in the league. Star goaltender Terry Dunbar–the MCHA’s Player of the Year and playoff MVP in 2003-04–departed after graduation as perhaps one of the very best goalies the MCHA has ever seen. Also gone are forwards Mark Ewing (4 GWG) and Brad Hawkins (20 pts.), two offensive catalysts whose contributions will be missed.
Even though expectations will be just as high this year after coming up just short the previous two seasons, Wise will be able to depend on seven seasoned upperclassmen, including Jon Daigle, who led the team in points last year (10-16-26). Veterans at the forward position will be counted on to score consistently as the team adjusts to new, untested starting netminders in sophomore Kyle Grabowski and junior Matt Bour.
Look for Marian to use speed and scoring to make up for unproven goaltending. But if the Sabres’ defense holds up and the platoon of goaltenders can manage consistent play, Marian could very well turn their habit of finishing second into an MCHA title.
Marian begins its league play against Milwaukee School of Engineering with home and home games on Friday and Saturday.
Golden Eagles, Savvy Veterans
Yes, hopes are high at Minnesota-Crookston. The Golden Eagles have two straight MCHA Championships in their pocket and 17 returning players will try to continue the streak. Head coach Gary Warren has quite an arsenal in his top lines. All-MCHA forward Brock Anundson, who led the Golden Eagles in scoring (16-15-31) last year is back, and is expected to provide steady leadership along with Patrick Knutson. Standout sophomore forward Chris Knapp hopes to build on his 10-goal effort last season, and defenseman/captain Marc Tveit anchors a solid defensive unit, whose top four blueliners can check with the biggest and baddest or run the power play from the back.
Alas, like their rivals at Marian, Minnesota-Crookston’s goaltending is a work in progress. Sophomore Brett Shelanski started the season by giving up five goals against the Milwaukee School of Engineering–a game that did not count in the MCHA standings, but was a match that the Golden Eagles certainly were expected to win. Only time and experience will tell if Shelanski can help backstop Minnesota-Crookston to a third consecutive league title.
The Golden Eagles go on the road this weekend to face Northland.
Engineering a Comeback
The Raiders of the Milwaukee School of Engineering were a frustrating bunch last season. They had balanced scoring, young players who contributed immediately and who were able to bounce back after a 1-7-0 start to eventually advance to the MCHA semifinal. However, it was all the games in between that was the big problem.
Coach Mark Ostapina saw his team’s goal scoring dwindle almost to nothing early in the first third of the season (including a four-game losing streak in which the Raiders were outscored 22-1). Then, the team rallied and began racking up goals by the half-dozen, only to go on another goal-starved losing streak. But by mid-season, Ostapina’s players were scoring again … then the wheels fell off and the Raiders lost five straight.
This kind of inconsistency won’t cut it this year, as the Raiders (1-2-0) are looking to climb up the ranks and close the divide that exists in the standings once you read past Marian and Minnesota-Crookston. The good news is, Ostapina seems to have the young guns to pull it off. Last season’s scoring leader Brian Soik is once again contributing. But this year, the sophomore has company in freshman forward Lee Swallow, who has been hot with three goals in his first three collegiate games.
Sophomore goalie Matt Burzon has been a steadying force as well after the team’s 7-0 season opening loss to Wisconsin-River Falls with fellow sophomore Joe Dovalina in the nets for the Raiders. Burzon started the next two games and has forged a respectable 3.06 GAA. If the Raiders keep this up, they may be able to avoid the win-loss roller coaster that almost derailed their 2003-2004 campaign.
The Raiders have a home and home series with Marian coming up this weekend, beginning in Milwaukee on Friday.
Nowhere to go but up: Northland and Lawrence
The two MCHA cellar dwellers of 2003-04 have a lot of catching up to do. Between them, the Northland Lumberjacks and the Lawrence Vikings won five regular season games last season in the MCHA, and had seven combined wins overall. While this may not be the year they make significant progress up the food chain in the Midwest, the teams are content with gradual progress.
Dan Huntley’s fourth year at the Northland helm will be a crucial one. There is no shortage of hard workers on his team but a lack of consistency and focus in their own zone crippled the Lumberjacks often last season. Of Northland’s 21 losses, 14 were games in which the opposition scored six goals or more. And in four of those routs, opposing teams scored 10 or more goals on Northland.
But the Lumberjack faithful see hop on the horizon in freshman goalie Todor Petkov, who caught the eyes of scouts and coaches alike while earning MVP honors with Streetsville of the Ontario Provincial Junior A league last year. With Petkov on board, Northland has the potential to build from the nets out.
As for Dave Ruhly’s squad at Lawrence, everything said about Northland applies: the defense needs to cut down on scoring chances, and the offense needs regular production from its forwards. This is a team on the small side, so they absolutely must use speed to their advantage. It wouldn’t help to string a win streak together so that their confidence can be rebuilt.
Lawrence (0-0-2 overall) goes head-to-head with the Toronto Rattlers touring team in an exhibition tilt on Sunday. Northland (0-1-0 overall) gets the Rattlers on Monday.
The new kid–Finlandia
Finlandia begins its first season in the MCHA after going 3-4-0 against non-conference competition as a D-III independent last year. Though it’s always a tough call to estimate how a new team will do, consider this: Finlandia played four non-conference games against Northland and won three of them. It then opened the 2004-05 season against Northland–and promptly won again by a score of 4-1.
The Lions, led by coach Joe Burcar, could surprise some in the MCHA. With only four upperclassmen on its roster, Finlandia is a work in progress, but hopes are high that the Lions can make an immediate impact this year.
Finlandia (1-0-0) plays exhibition matches against MSU-Bottineau on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
THIS WEEK IN THE MIAC-NCHA
This week, the MIAC and NCHA begin their interlocking schedule of games. With five of the top 15 teams in the D-III polls playing each other, this could be an interesting weekend. Here are some ranked teams to watch:
#4 Wisconsin-River Falls @ Augsburg (Friday, 11/5)
Concordia @ #4 Wisconsin-River Falls (Saturday, 11/6)
In its first two wins, Wisconsin-River Falls has outscored its opponents 13-1. Combine that with a duo of junior goaltenders for the Falcons, and you have a long weekend for Augsburg and Concordia. The Falcons stay unbeaten after this weekend.
#13 Lake Forest @ St. Mary’s (Friday, 11/5)
#13 Lake Forest @ #10 St. Thomas Saturday, 11/6)
Sure, Lake Forest is ranked in the top 15, and if its defense stands up as it did last season, they can expect more success–particularly against St. Mary’s. But don’t be surprised if the Tommies–fresh off their Friday game with #2 St. Norbert–put together a great game in their home building to give Lake Forest a split for the weekend.
#11 Wisconsin-Superior @ St. Olaf (Friday, 11/5)
#11 Wisconsin-Superior @ Gustavus Adolphus (Saturday, 11/6)
Senior leadership on the part of the Yellowjackets will prevail this weekend in both of these contests. The Jackets may need these early-season wins by the end of the year.
#2 St. Norbert @ #10 St. Thomas (Friday, 11/5)
#2 St. Norbert @ St. Mary’s (Saturday, 11/6)
Friday’s tilt may be the game of the week, and closer than many may think. The Green Knights began quite nicely last weekend in their 4-1 opening win against RIT, but then lost a close 4-3 decision in their Saturday rematch against the Tigers. Terry Skrypek’s St. Thomas team is hungry this season, and would like to send their crowd home happy with an upset win. St. Norbert has learned not to take teams lightly, however, and will probably win a squeaker versus the Tommies. Saturday’s game–barring catastrophe–should go easily to St. Norbert. The Green Knights move to 3-1-0 after this weekend.