College Hockey:
This Week in MIAC: Feb. 4, 2010

Push for the Playoffs

After last weekend, there are three weeks left in the MIAC schedule. With the season nearing its conclusion, in some leagues this would be the time of year when the playoff picture is becoming clearer and teams are left jockeying for positioning. In the MIAC though, where only five teams make the playoffs, the picture is anything but clear. The parity in this league becomes more and more apparent each week, and the door is still open for teams to make late pushes to secure a playoff spot. With that in mind, lets take a look at last weekends action, and what each team has left to do to secure a playoff spot.

Bethel vs. St. Olaf

This was my series of the week, as the Royals are fighting to hold on to their playoff position while the Oles are trying to claw their way up the standings. A sweep would have been huge for either team, and both came out playing hard on Friday at Bethel.

St. Olaf scored first, but Bethel tallied three goals before the end of the first period, staking them to a 3-1 lead. The Oles were able to keep it close, but were never able to tie the score en route to a 5-3 win for Bethel.

Bethel coach Joel Johnson was proud of the way his team played, especially since it gave his team a chance to capitalize on the weekend.

Obviously winning the first game is huge, said Johnson. Not only is it good for our confidence and for building momentum, but it gives us a chance to take three or four points and have a really good weekend.

The Royals werent able to gain any more points on Saturday though, as the Oles capitalized at home. While the Oles looked somewhat hesitant on Friday, they were able to apply a lot more pressure on Saturday, outshooting the Royals 30-14 over the final two periods.

Despite that shot advantage, though, St. Olaf never held a two goal lead, and scored the game-winning goal with less than three minutes remaining. Regardless of how it came to pass, the most important thing for them was to come away with the 4-3 victory.

Like most series, this had the potential to clear up the playoff picture.

However with a split, more teams became jammed in the middle of the standings. For Bethel, the split keeps them in third place, although its looking less likely that theyll be able to catch Hamline or Gustavus Adolphus for one of the top two spots. The Royals have four games left to play while the teams above them have six remaining. Bethel has also played those teams already, so they cant gain any ground in a head to head matchup.

The good news, however, is that even though they dont play this week, its impossible for them to fall out of the top five, regardless of what happens this weekend. The last two weekends are huge for Bethel as they take on St. Thomas and Augsburg, both of whom are fighting to make the playoffs. If the Royals split those series, odds are theyll make the playoffs. Taking more than four points from those games would pretty much guarantee them a playoff spot, and possibly a home playoff game as well.

For St. Olaf, theyre currently sitting in sixth place and would be the first team out if the playoffs started today.

The good news for them is that they have six games left to play while Concordia (MN) and St. Thomas both have only four games left. Both those teams are only two points ahead of the Oles, so one win (or two ties) on their bye weeks is all it could take for St. Olaf to tie them. The Oles have a big series this weekend with St. Thomas, a huge opportunity for either team to put themselves firmly in the playoff picture.

St. Thomas vs. St. Marys

This was the only sweep of the weekend, as St. Thomas won 4-3 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday. Fridays game was as close as the score indicated, as the Tommies scored twice in the third period to come from behind and win. On Saturday, the result wasnt in question for too long, as St. Thomas outshot the Cardinals 41-23 and led 3-0 after the second period.

The sweep couldnt have come at a better time for the Tommies. They started the season off slow, and had been struggling in the bottom half of the standings for some time now. These two wins vaulted them into a tie with Concordia for fourth place in the standings, two points ahead of St. Olaf in sixth.

Thats the good news. The bad news is that the Tommies have a bye the final week of the season. That means theyll have to do enough to make the playoffs over the next two weeks, and hope they dont get left out while sitting idle.

After facing St. Olaf this weekend, the Tommies play Bethel to close out their season. Three wins in those four games should be enough to put the Tommies in the postseason. Conversely, three losses would leave their playoff hopes clinging to life support. The Tommies need to go out and play hard for all four games, without focusing on anything other than working hard every single shift.

St. Marys, on the other hand, is effectively eliminated from the playoffs. If they win out, they have a shot to make the playoffs, depending on what happens in other games. However, with a 1-9-0 league record (and 1-17-1 overall) that does not seem likely. The Cardinals are still improved over last years team, and focusing on getting better each game to finish the season is a good goal. Series against Augsburg and Gustavus give St. Marys a chance to play spoiler, as well.

Hamline vs. Augsburg

If you wanted an example of the parity in the MIAC this season, this series is a good example. Augsburg is currently in seventh place, although they trail St. Olaf by only one point, and are only three points out of the final playoff spot. Tenth ranked Hamline came into this series with a chance to take over first place while Gustavus was idle.

Friday nights matchup turned out to be the game of the week in the MIAC.

Augsburg roared out to a 4-0 lead before the middle of the second period. Hamline was able to mount a furious comeback, and tied the game in dramatic fashion, scoring with seven seconds left, on the power play, with their goaltender pulled. While some teams may have been demoralized by giving away a four goal lead, Augsburg scored on their first shot in overtime, netting the game winner just over one minute into the extra stanza.

Saturdays game would similar a somewhat similar storyline, but in reverse. This time Hamline would come out with a 2-0 lead after the first period, only to have the Auggies tie it in the second. The lone goal in the third period would go to Hamline, who skated off with a 3-2 win, salvaging a split on the weekend.

Augsburgs problem this season is a lack of big weekends.

While theyve only been swept once, Augsburg has only had one weekend where theyve garnered more than two points. Thats going to have to change over the final three weeks if they want to make the playoffs. This team has the offensive tools and the goaltending to go on a hot streak, but it seems they havent been able to put it all together. At times the offense looks extremely dangerous, the power play is clicking, and the goaltending is solid. And at other times one or more of those key facets seem to disappear.

A sweep of St. Marys this weekend would bring the Auggies one point behind Bethel in the standings. Theres also the possibility that Augsburg would jump either St. Olaf or St. Thomas, depending on what happens when those two teams play this weekend. This would set up a wild ride for the finish, as Augsburgs final two opponents are St. Olaf and Bethel.

For No. 10 Hamline, the loss on Friday meant they no longer had a chance to gain first place this weekend. They still have a shot to take that spot in two weeks when they have their series against Gustavus Adolphus. In between the Gusties and Hamline are two games against St. Johns, though, and while theyre h

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