Turning Things Around
The last time I spoke with Augsburg interim coach Chris Brown, he wasn’t sure where his Auggies were at. At the time they were 0-4-0 and heading into a series with St. Mary’s. Goaltending was an issue and Brown had other concerns as well but maintained his team was getting better.
Things got a whole lot better for Augsburg starting with that weekend. The Auggies won the opener with the Cardinals 4-2, then, skated to a 3-3 tie the next weekend. At the Augsburg Tournament the next week the Auggies opened with a 5-1 win over Finlandia and fell to current No. 4 Wisconsin-Superior 3-2. Two weeks ago, Augsburg tied St. Olaf twice, then, this past weekend started high-powered Bethel in its tracks, winning 5-1 and dueling to a 0-0 tie Saturday. The Royals scored 13 goals the weekend before in a two-game set with St. Thomas.
“We look at it and go, ‘Geez, how the heck did we hold Bethel, with all that offensive power, to one goal in 125 minutes of play?’” Brown said.
“I still think Bethel is, if not the top team in our league, certainly one of the top three,” he said. “And I picked them to win the league in the coaches’ poll. So we certainly had tons of respect for them.”
Sophomore goaltender Andy Kent was the hero of the Bethel series (see below for more details and know I’m not neglecting him).
The lacking on offense is a surprise considering scoring has been a staple of the team in years past. But this year, it really is about the defense. The first three games of the season were apparently an abbhoration as the Auggies gave up six, six and five goals to St. Norbert, Lake Forest and Wisconsin-River Falls, respectively. All those games were losses. In the other nine games, Augsburg has given up four goals twice, three goals twice and two goals or less five times. In conference play, the Auggies have the second-best defense, giving up an average of 2.00 goals per game. Last season, Augsburg gave up five or more goals in 10 games, all of which were losses.
“The reason we probably haven’t been beaten (in conference play) is our kids are committed to playing tough team defense,” Brown said. “They’re doing all the dirty things it takes, on the defensive side of the puck, to put us in a position to be able to compete in those games but I think the reason we’ve tied four games is just simply we need to do a better job in the offensive end.”
The Auggies have one last game before a month-long break, which isn’t exactly what Brown would have hoped for at this point in the season.
“When we were walking off the ice after Saturday’s Bethel game I turned to our assistant coaches and I said, ‘Too bad this break’s coming right now cause I feel like we’re playing well,’ ” he said. “But at the same time you know going into a college season at this level, it’s basically two seasons. You hate to think of having to peak for the middle of December then restart up again in January but that’s kind of what it’s like. I think the break is good for you if you want it to be. I don’t know how it’s going to affect our momentum … I don’t feel right now that we want to take a break. I mean who does when they feel like they’re playing on all cylinders, who wants to take a break?”
Putting out the Fire
Every coach I’ve talked to uses the same word when describing Bethel’s offense — firepower. Well, the blaze that was the Royals’ offense was snuffed out this weekend by Augsburg sophomore goaltender Andy Kent. Kent stopped 64-of-65 shots on the weekend en route to a 5-1 win and 0-0 tie. The lone goal Kent gave up came at 3:35 in the first period of Friday’s game so Kent ended with 121:25 of shutout hockey. Not bad for a guy that came into the season with just three collegiate games under his belt. But it’s been the experience this season — he’s played in nine straight games — that Kent says gets him going.
“I know I play better the more games I play, like, last year I didn’t play till the end of the year and it’s tough to get in a rhythm there,” he said. “But now I’ve been playing and I feel like I’ve been getting in a rhythm and it’s a lot easier to play.”
For the year, Kent is 3-3-4 with a 2.24 GAA and a .914 save percentage, and against conference foes he is 2-0-4 with a 1.89 GAA and a .930 save percentage, both of which are second in the MIAC.
“Andrew is one of the most dedicated and hard-working players on our team if not the most,” Brown said. “And he is so determined to not only prove himself but to contribute to the success of our hockey program, he’s so committed to Augsburg College hockey that, the kid is just a relentless worker off the ice.”
Johnson to Frozen Four?
Augsburg senior center Aaron Johnson is one of five Division-III men’s hockey players and 46 Division-I men’s hockey players on the list of finalists to compete in the 2007 Division I Frozen Four Skills Challenge in St. Louis, Mo., on April 6, 2007. The list of 50 will be narrowed down to 16 who will compete at the Frozen Four.
“What a thrill for him if he ends up being selected, which I’m hopeful that he will. What a thrill for him,” Brown said. “I think he’d be a great selection and I hope he gets it. But yeah, it certainly is a thrill for our hockey program to have to be recognized through Aaron.”