Second go-round not much better for the MIAC
The annual MIAC/NCHA battle wasn’t much of a battle this year. In the first weekend of play, the NCHA went 12-5-1 against the MIAC, outscoring its Minnesota foes 72-48 in the process. The second weekend was just as bad for the MIAC as the NCHA went 13-3-0, with a 65-41 scoring advantage thanks in part to pair of Friday shutouts — Wisconsin-Stout beat St. John’s 2-0 and St. Scholastica beat St. Olaf 4-0.
Only two teams — Concordia and St. Thomas — have at least two wins this season. The Cobbers are 3-0 after 1-0 and 3-2 wins over lowly Northland, then an 8-3 win over Minnesota-Crookston on Nov. 7. The Tommies should have three wins but blew a 3-1 lead against Wisconsin-Stevens Point so they currently sit at 2-2 with a 2-1 win over Wisconsin-Eau Claire and 4-1 over Lake Forest.
“The other league’s got like a two-week advantage over us, they get started earlier and they have games under their belt before they play us … there’s a big advantage there,” St. Thomas coach Terry Skrypek said.
“Eventually I think we’ll compete with those teams. As the season goes on the MIAC will get better and the teams will get better and I just think it’s going to be a great race.”
Royals will have to work for their crown
After talking with a number of MIAC coaches, Bethel seems to be the team to beat in the conference this season. The Royals return a majority of their team from last season and looked to be a serious offensive powerhouse again this season.
But its contests against the NCHA have Bethel sitting at 1-3 this season, and the offense that averaged 4.88 goals per game in conference play is averaging just 2.25 goals per game this season.
Coach Pete Aus has played four different goaltenders in each of the four games, which was something he said he planned out last spring. He said he’s juggled lineups to this point, trying to find what combinations will work best so this team right now is not indicative of what team will be playing when conference play begins. One change that had immediate results was moving junior Steve Eastman back to forward against Stevens Point. Eastman had a pair of goals and Aus said he plans on leaving Eastman at forward.
Another forward, sophomore Kent Bostrom, is leading the team in scoring again this season, notching four points on two goals and two assists. Junior forward Dan Bonne also has four points, scoring one goal and picking up three assists so far. Both Bostrom and Bonne were held scoreless in the Royals’ 4-3 loss to Stevens Point last Saturday.
“(Bostrom’s) the kind of guy that you don’t notice a lot on the ice but then you pick up the game summary sheet and he’s got a goal and assist,” Aus said. “He’s just a kid that’s steady, he works at both ends of the rink, he works very, very hard … he’ll have another consistent year I think just like last year, he’s going to be up there in the scoring for us, and he’s going to make a difference.”
While Bethel doesn’t begin conference play until the first week of December against St. Thomas, the Royals have an important couple of games this week. In the Augsburg Tournament on Wednesday, the Royals take on Wisconsin-Superior, which beat Bethel 4-1 in the Royals’ season-opener. Bethel’s second game will be against either Finlandia or Augsburg on Thursday.
Auggies trying for first win
Augsburg has gotten off to a slow start under first-year coach Chris Brown. The Auggies have lost all four games this season, beginning with a 6-0 loss to St. Norbert, then a 6-2 loss to Lake Forest, followed by a 5-4 loss to Wisconsin-River Falls and a 4-2 loss to Wisconsin-Stout.
“Well I don’t know where we can be at this point,” Brown said. “We’re just trying to focus one week at a time, just trying to get as much improvement as we can in our four practices and some of our off-ice activities and then we test ourselves on the weekend. Obviously nobody wants to be 0-4 but I think if we at where we are … compared to where we started … we’re not an elite team at this point.
“We’re trying to set some realistic goals for this team. We definitely have some offensive power and yeah, we’re struggling … I think we’re just a puck-luck bounce away from getting on a streak where we’re extremely hot because we have do have that potential. …”
Unlike recent years, Augsburg hasn’t scored at its usual torrid pace, averaging two goals per game. But like recent years, the Auggies defense is giving up goals, an average of 5.25 per game.
This weekend, Augsburg takes on St. Mary’s to open MIAC play. The Cardinals are 1-3-0, with a win over Lake Forest, a two-goal loss to Stevens Point, a one-goal loss to Eau Claire and a 7-2 loss to St. Norbert.
“I think it’s going to be a great series I think you got two pretty evenly matched teams still trying to find out there identity this year,” Brown said. “I’ve heard some good things about St. Mary’s to this point from other people. They’re certainly producing offensively a number of shots, so obviously they have some chemistry there. I think the series will come down to special teams and goaltending. At this point, we’re certainly struggling in those two areas so I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
St. Mary’s is still trying to figure out its goaltending situation and has given up quite a few goals this season. That’s something that should really benefit the Auggies’ offense. Senior Critter Nagurski and Aaron Johnson are leading the team with four and three points, respectively. At this point last season, Augsburg was 3-1 with wins over Lake Forest, Stout and St. Norbert, and Johnson had seven points while Nagurski had six.
“It’s going to be a difficult year for them because every game, I mean for instance against St. Norbert, our first game of the year, I don’t remember one game last year where Critter Nagurski and Aaron Johnson got hit as much as they did that game,” Brown said. “They’re walking around with huge targets on their backs this year and that’s a tough challenge for them mentally and physically and so I think that’s part of the reason they might maybe not be putting up the numbers that people would expect them to including themselves. But I think over the long haul, over time, they’re very prideful individuals, they work hard at their game, I think over time, in the end when it’s said and done they’ll have produced to their expectation.”
After the St. Mary’s series, the Auggies will host the Augsburg Tournament, taking on Finlandia in the first game, then either Superior or Bethel in the second game. Last year at this time, Augsburg was waxed in the Hockey Showcase in Blaine, losing 6-1 to St. Scholastica and 7-0 to Superior.
“It’s going to be a fun tournament,” Brown said. “Obviously for us we’re excited because we’ve got four games in six days and it’s early in the season so that’s what we want to be doing is playing games and getting better.”
As for the key for his team to get back on the right track, Brown said his team needs luck.
“If you keep working hard and doing things right, which I’ve been pleased with a lot things we’ve been doing with our attitude and things like that, where I think eventually we’ll get that break, we’ll get that bounce, we’ll some luck, I think that’s what we need right now is just a little luck to lift our spirits. …”