First Round, First Times
It’s been three years since Wisconsin-Superior has played in the NCAA Tournament. It’s the first time St. Olaf has ever played in the NCAA Tournament. Fittingly, those two teams will square off in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
The Yellowjackets stunned St. Norbert in the NCHA Playoffs to win the Peters Cup and earn the berth in the NCAA Tournament that accompanies it.
“One of our goals was to get to the national tournament and really there’s two ways to do it. One is to win the Peters Cup the other is to play well in the regular season and get an at-large (bid),” Superior coach Dan Stauber said. “We did not play well throughout the year and just have lately been coming together.”
The Oles knocked off St. John’s in the semifinals of the MIAC playoffs, then, beat top-seeded St. Thomas on the Tommies home ice to earn the MIAC’s NCAA Tournament bid.
“I think outside of our league people would think we’re a surprise,” St. Olaf coach Sean Goldsworthy. “But I think if you talked to St. John’s and St. Thomas I think they would agree that we’re a respectable opponent and we’re going to be representing the MIAC just fine.”
The two teams played once this season, with Superior beating St. Olaf 4-1 on Nov. 11 in Superior. But that game was early on and both coaches know this time will be different.
“This year we beat them 4-1 in our barn but it wasn’t a 4-1 game,” Stauber said. “I think they’re highly skilled, they’re patient, they’re well coached, I think people underestimated them and they did the job.”
“Dan does an outstanding job for starters,” Goldsworthy said. “Every year he seems to get his team ramped up and they play their best hockey at the end of the year and this year’s no different.”
Superior finished the season 17-9-3, and went 5-0-1 in its last six games. And one thing to keep in mind, six of the Yellowjackets’ losses were of the one-goal variety.
“We had to learn to win tight games with nine freshmen in the roster, it was a process,” Stauber said. “What’s helped us I think is the last six or seven games they’ve all been one-goal games so they know that we’ve got to stay focused for 60 minutes.”
St. Olaf went 12-9-5 on the season and went 5-2-1 in their final eight games. The main reason for the Oles post season success was the play of their senior goaltender Dan Kehler.
Kehler gave up just three goals in the games against St. John’s and St. Thomas, making 52 saves and posting a .945 save percentage.
“Dan Kehler’s one of the best goaltenders in the West, I mean there’s no disputing that,” Goldsworthy said. “He’s been the backbone of our team the last three seasons and he’s probably the number reason why we’re still playing.”