A Runaway Winner?
Gustavus Adolphus is cleaning house in the MIAC thus far, winning eight straight games, including a pair of one-goal victories last weekend against St. Olaf, and has an eight-point cushion on the two second-place teams. The Gusties have a brutal schedule remaining, with series against Bethel, St. Thomas, Augsburg and St. John’s, so it will be interesting to see if they can hold on for their first regular season title since 1992-1993.
Still a Rivalry
St. John’s coach John Harrington can’t remember the last time his team squared off against St. Thomas without at least one of the two teams vying for a league title. St. Thomas coach Terry Skrypek said you’d have to go way back, probably to when Harrington began coaching the Johnnies 14 years ago. The rivalry resumes this weekend with both teams 10 points out of first place in the conference.
“It’s always a big a rivalry,” Harrington said. “I’ve told people a lot that if the two schools played tiddlywinks people would show up and cheer against each other, that’s just the nature of the rivalry and it’s that way in every sport here at St. John’s and I’m not exactly sure how St. Thomas looks at it but it’s a big rivalry for them too I think and so it’s not going to change that … I think there will be a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm for this serious regardless of the fact that we’re both kind of second division right now.”
“It’s always been really hard-fought games (against St. John’s),” Skrypek said. “Every time we play them it’s usually overtime games or one-goal games and it’s usually pretty tight. I know they have trouble scoring goals just like we do, although last weekend us scoring seven goals was kind of a change, we haven’t done that all year long so hopefully maybe we found our scoring touch here, I don’t know, we’ll see … They’re very sound defensively, they don’t beat themselves, they don’t make many mistakes. We’re just going to have to be patient with them I think that’s the key, be patient with them and who knows, this serious here could be a springboard for the team that’s jumping to the playoffs and doing some damage down the road.”
St. John’s is 3-5-0 in conference play and coming off a split with Bethel. The Johnnies lost to the Royals 5-0 last Friday and came away with a 3-1 win Saturday. In the win, St. John’s broke out of its 0-34 power-play slump, tallying two goals on the man advantage to get the win.
“We haven’t been used to being in this situation, looking up at a lot of other teams,” Harrington said. “Certainly some teams are licking their chops when they play us now … but you know I thought we played pretty well this past Saturday against Bethel. Bethel’s a pretty good team with great forwards and I thought we had one of those hopefully turning point games but you never know that until you play another one after that and of course we have St. Thomas this weekend so it will be a big test.”
St. Thomas is 3-3-0 in MIAC play and is coming off a sweep of Augsburg to get right back in the thick of things. Those two losses were the first conference losses for the Auggies this season.
“I think right now the way we’re approaching it is, it’s just one game at a time,” Skrypek said. “Our goal is to get two points every game that we play, maybe at the worst get one point on a tie …we feel we kind of control our own destiny.”
While both teams’ destinies don’t likely include a regular season title, a playoff title and the coveted berth in the NCAA Tournament is still a realistic goal. Harrington summed it up best saying it really only matters if you’re playing well at the end of the season.
“That’s the time we need to be playing well is when the playoffs come around cause then it’s just a one-game shot and you want to be near the top and playing your best hockey at that time.”
Player of the Week
One reason Gustavus Adolphus is leading the MIAC is the play of sophomore netminder Kevin Johnson. Johnson earned player of the week honors this week for his efforts against St. Olaf. Johnson made 37 saves in Friday’s 4-3 win and stopped another 26 shots in Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win. Johnson is 10-3-0 overall and 8-0-0 in conference play. His 2.08 GAA and .912 save percentage are third and fourth in the MIAC, respectively.