Picking Up the Pieces
This past weekend saw the second half of the MIAC-NCHA crossover. Coming into the weekend the NCHA held the upper hand in the series, posting a 12-4-1 record. With the MIAC teams holding home ice for this weekends 14 matchups, it looked like a good chance to close the gap and perhaps even things up.
Instead, it ended up being a rough weekend all around for the MIAC, as the league as a whole went 2-10-2 against NCHA teams. With conference play dominating the rest of the season for the nine MIAC teams, this was not how anyone wanted to resume league play.
While it may look like it was complete domination, the majority of the games were closer than the overall record would indicate. St. Marys put a scare into both the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls. Both teams outshot the Cardinals, but barely managed to eke out wins. Eau Claire needing a shorthanded empty-net goal to seal their win on Friday was dramatic enough, but what happened on Saturday blew that out of the proverbial water.
Going into the third period, St. Marys held a 3-1 lead over River Falls, but that lead was erased in less than 90 seconds as the Falcons scored twice in 1:26 to tie the game. After a back-and-forth period, the game headed to overtime with the Cardinals on a power play.
Under one minute into the extra frame, another River Falls player took a penalty, ensuring that the Cardinals would be on the power play for all of overtime, and giving them over a minute of a 5-on-3 advantage. However, things would end in heartbreaking fashion for St. Marys.
As the first penalty expired with Josh Calleja exiting the penalty box, he set up a breakout pass that set Sean Roadhouse free. He buried his chance and ended St. Marys weekend with a second shorthanded goal sealing their loss.
Hamline had a 2-0-1 record against the NCHA coming into this weekend, and was the only MIAC team without a loss against their rival conference.
That changed after Fridays game against St. Scholastica. The Saints played one of the best games of hockey Ive seen this season en route to a 4-0 victory over the Pipers. The vast majority of the game was played evenly, with both teams matching each other on speed and skill. The Saints system cut down on Hamlines time and space and did an excellent job of clogging up passing lanes.
The Pipers were still able to maintain offensive possession and apply some pressure, but Scholastica goaltender Brennan Poderzay was able to shut the door on every scoring chance. On the other side, the Saints were able to cycle the puck offensively themselves, although none of their goals would come from that pressure.
All four goals were scored on odd man rushes, and that was the difference in the game: Scholastica was able to bury their chances while Hamline was not. That one facet was enough to give an even game a 4-0 score that might lead some to believe wasnt that close.
Saturdays matchup against UW-Superior started off better for Hamline, as they broke out to a 4-1 lead over the Yellowjackets. However, Superior was able to score three unanswered goals en route to a 4-4 tie, ending a disappointing weekend for Hamline.
The biggest bright spot for the MIAC was the play of Augsburg. The Auggies won both their games this weekend, with impressive overtime victories over UW-Stout and St. Olaf. Against the Blue Devils, Augsburg pulled their goaltender in the dying seconds of the game. Nick Guran scored his third goal of the game with 14 seconds left to tie the contest at 4-4. The Auggies didnt waste any time in the extra stanza, as they scored on the first shot of overtime to win in dramatic fashion.
On Saturday, Augsburg held a one goal lead in third period over St. Olaf, but wasnt able to hold on as the Oles scored midway through the period to knot the score. Neither team was able to score in the rest of regulation, and the Auggies were once again headed to overtime. Augsburg was given a golden opportunity halfway through the period when St. Olaf took a penalty, and then took another one less than a minute later. Kris Reinthaler scored his second goal of the season shortly afterwards, and the Auggies celebrated another sudden death victory.
Second Half Stretch
With the MIAC-NCHA crossover finished for the season, the majority of games left for the nine MIAC teams are of the conference variety. Most teams have 10 conference games left, although some have 12. These are the most important games of the season for the league as they jostle to secure a spot in the league playoffs. Unlike some leagues where every team makes the conference tournament, only the top five teams from the MIAC get a chance to extend their season.
This is an incredibly close league, with any team able to beat any other team on a given night. While this makes it difficult to foresee the future, Im going to take this week to predict how I see the final standings shaping up.
(Editors note: Predictions made in reverse order of current standings.)
St. Johns Johnnies
Preseason Prediction: Eighth
Midseason Prediction: Eighth
The Johnnies are currently 1-5-0 in the conference and in last place. By all accounts its been a disappointing season so far. If the Johnnies want to move up the standings, theyre going to have to play some of the top teams in the league, as they have yet to face Gustavus Adolphus and Hamline. However they also play the two teams directly above them, which would allow the Johnnies to move up to at least seventh place, if not higher.
The Johnnies havent been badly outplayed in conference, with no losses by more than two goals. If they can do just a little bit more offensively or defensively, they might be able to turn the corner and win some games in the second half. This is a young team with a second year coach, and the second half of the year can be when young teams buy into a new system and start to improve. Well see how the team reacts in the coming weeks.
Right now, I see them finishing eighth. Their series against St. Marys might determine which team finishes last in the conference. The Johnnies certainly have skill and play hard, but with their remaining schedule, I dont see them being able to climb as high as sixth place.
St. Marys Cardinals
Preseason Prediction: Ninth
Midseason Prediction: Ninth
The Cardinals have shown some definite improvement this season under second year head coach Bill Moore. Last season saw the Cardinals surrendered 93 goals, by far the worst in the league. Right now theyre on pace to give up only 60. Their scoring has dipped slightly this season, but the defensive improvement far outweighs that lack of productivity.
Young teams are often prone to erratic play early in the season, as they have problems staying disciplined, playing within their system, and getting a feel for their teammates. The question facing the Cardinals is whether they can come together as a team and improve, or be overcome by this season. Given how the Cardinals have played hard through the end of their games all season, this is not a team thats going to simply give up.
St. Marys schedule has some winnable games down the stretch, so if they improve their play, they could very well finish in sixth place. Like I said earlier, their series against St. Johns likely will be to determine which of the two finishes in last place. They have eight conference games before that series though, so anything can happen. Improvement as a team doesnt always show up in a win-loss record; this team is on a pace to be better than last years version, and even if it doesnt show up in the win column, if they can continue to play hard and improve, theyll have nothing to be ashamed of when the season comes to a close.
St. Olaf Oles