The Thankgiving weekend saw a little bit of everything for teams from the two leagues. Four NCHA teams took part in conference play, two teams from each league hit the ice for holiday tournaments, while the rest stayed home enjoying leftovers all weekend.
For the first time this season, a Western team grabs the top spot in the USCHO.com DIII poll as on the heels of another 2-0 weekend, undefeated St. Norbert now claims the top spot. Idle UW-River Falls holds on to the number six spot, while UW-Superior holds down the seventh position following two wins over MIAC teams in the Augsburg Tournament. UW-Stout drops from 10th to 12th following a one-goal loss to Neumann in the semifinals of the MSOE Thanksgiving Tournament. Following UW-Stevens Point’s 0-2 weekend, and MSOE’s 9-0 loss at the hands of Neumann, both have dropped completely out of the poll, leaving St. Scholastica as the lone remaining team from either league to garner votes. The Saints currently stand one spot out of the top fifteen.
Tournament Time, November Style
A few of the most intriguing matchups of the past weekend were played in the inagural MSOE Thanksgiving Tournament, held at the Kern Center in Milwaukee, WI. Featuring host MSOE, Gustavus Adolphus, UW-Stout and Neumann, the tournament offered another chance for MSOE to prove itself against non-conference opposition, as well as a thrilling opening round game between two ranked teams in UW-Stout and Neumann.
In the tournament opener it looked like the NCHA would reign supreme as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead on the Knights. UW-Stout still appeared to be in excellent position to advance to the final until a string of penalties, the most notable a five minute major for checking from behind, gave the Knights an opportunity they would not pass up. In a span that stretched less than five minutes, Neumann would reel off three powerplay goals, two of them coming with a two-man advantage.
The two would remain deadlocked until the waning moments of the game. With Neumann again on the powerplay, Knight forward Mike Hedden would cap off a four point day, finding the back of the net with only 12 seconds left to play, thereby sending the Knights to the title game. Special teams were the story of the game as all four Neumann goals would come with a man (or two) advantage.
Special teams would also play a crucial role in the nightcap, where MSOE came out on top of a 9-6 shootout against Gustavus Adolphus. The Gusties were an impressive 4-for-8 on the powerplay, but it wouldn’t be enough to match the Raiders overwhelming 6-for-11 with the man advantage. Led by four goals from forward R.G. Flath, 12 Raiders would get on the scoresheet en route to sending MSOE to the title game.
Sunday’s championship contest against Neumann presented yet another opportunity for MSOE to score a landmark win over a very high-quality opponent. One weird caveat, however, is that the Raiders would rather have been playing UW-Stout. When it comes to NCAA comparisons against other teams from the West Region, a win over UW-Stout would have helped out MSOE much more (especially in terms of record against common opponents) than a win over Neumann would have.
Despite that interesting conundrum, it’s all moot for now as MSOE would not be beating anyone on Sunday. By the time MSOE called its timeout only 4:48 into the game, Neumann had already put three goals up on the board, setting the Raiders in a hole they would never climb out of.
According to Neumann head coach Dennis Williams, a fast start was something the Knights were focusing on, especially after falling behind to UW-Stout 3-0 the day before.
“That’s something we preached,” he said. “Especially after what happened yesterday, we didn’t need that happening again today.”
Neumann would add another goal late in the period to take a 4-0 lead into the first intermission, and the Knights would officially put things away in the second period with three of the prettiest goals this writer has seen in a while.
The first two came on nearly identical powerplay set-ups, as the Knights would make five rapid-fire passes only to find a man standing all alone on the doorstep on the weak side. The scoring in the period was capped off by a gorgeous breakaway backhander by Jesse Cole. Not taking the foot off the pedal even with a four goal lead os something Williams expects from his team.
“A lot of that comes from the league we play in,” he said. “You can’t ever let up against anyone or it will come back to hurt you. It again goes back to yesterday when we were the ones who had to come back. I don’t think we played 60 minutes of hockey yesterday and today it was something we were going to do.”
And play a full 60 minutes they did, as the Knights would tally twice more in the final frame and roll to a 9-0 win.
With this being the first of what MSOE plans on making an annual event, early reviews bode well for the future as Williams and his Knights were impressed with the entire ordeal.
“Everything about it has been great. The facility is great, the competition … and the hospitality has been great. No complaints at all. We have two 15-hour bus trips to get here but this is our first time out West to get a chance to play some of these guys and I thought everything about it was great,” he said.
Of course, it always helps win you win the tournament, as according to one Neumann player: “This will make the trip home a lot more fun.”
UW-Superior won the Augsburg Tournament by defeating Augsburg 3-2 in the championship game and Bethel 9-4 in the opening round.
Finlandia also participated in the Augsburg Tournament, but finished 0-2 with losses to Bethel and Augsburg.
St. Norbert goaltender Kyle Jones conceded goals in both Green Knight wins last weekend, keeping his career shutout total at 13 – one shy of tying the all-time NCAA Division III record.
UW-Superior’s two wins over MIAC foes and UW-Stout’s victory over Gustavus Adolphus run the NCHA’s season record against the MIAC to 28-6-1.
St. Norbert junior forward Marc Belanger leads the West Region in scoring with 20 points (8g, 12a) in 11 games. His total ranks him tied for 5th in scoring in the nation. St. Norbert forwards Matt Boyd and Steven Sleep also crack the top ten nationally in scoring.
St. Norbert’s two wins last weekend run its season record to 10-0-1. If the Green Knights win Friday, it will mark their best start in school history.
Following last weekend’s 0-1-1 showing, UW-Stevens Point is 0-3-1 in the NCHA. This marks the first time the Pointers have been winless through four league games since the 1982-83 season – their second year as a varsity program.
The rumor mill says UW-Eau Claire was the best looking team St. Norbert has faced all season. Though the Green Knights pulled away in the third period, for the third week in a row the word is the same: Keep an eye on the Blugolds.
This Week in the MCHA
The MCHA boasts a full slate of league games this weekend, and two of the matchups look very even.
The one that doesn’t is MSOE hosting a series against Northland. MSOE currently leads the league with seven points while Northland enters the weekend winless. Making matters worse for the Lumberjacks is that the Raiders likely aren’t going to be in a very good mood following the 9-0 wipeout by Neumann. The Raiders owned Northland last season, going a perfect 4-0 while outscoring them by a 24-2 margin. Over the past two seasons, MSOE has rolled up the statistics against MCHA foes, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue this weekend.
Second place Finlandia is once again at home, but they are hosting Lawrence who is only one point behind them in the league standings. Last season’s meetings were about as tight as possible with the two going 1-1-2 against each other. As has been the theme this season, expect special teams to decide a series that appears too close to call. Lawrence leads the MCHA in penalty minutes, but also leads in penalty kill.