And Then There Were Five
It took until the final day of games, but the MIAC finally has its five teams set for the playoffs.
Coming into that last day, though, four teams were fighting for the last two spots.
Gustavus Adolphus, Hamline, and St. Thomas had clinched their berths entering the final weekend, but Augsburg, Bethel, St. Olaf, and Concordia (MN) all remained alive. Concordia needed to win their final game and get help from other teams to make the playoffs, but the other three teams all held their destiny in their own hands.
The key games on Saturday were Bethel vs. Augsburg and St. Johns vs. St. Olaf.
If the Oles won, either Bethel or Augsburg would be eliminated. With the score tied late in the second period of the Augsburg-Bethel game, word came in that St. Olaf was leading St. Johns, 5-2. With it looking like the Oles were going to win, both the Royals and the Auggies knew they would need a result in this game. Augsburg would need a win to advance, while Bethel would clinch a spot with a tie or a win.
After giving up three goals to Augsburgs top line on Friday, Bethel did a tremendous job bottling them up on Saturday, holding them scoreless. However, despite shutting down their top line, the Royals could not stop the Auggies. Early in the third period, Trevor Doden scored his second goal of the game, putting the Auggies up 3-2. Despite a late flurry of pressure, Bethel would be unable to answer to tie the game, and Augsburg clinched fourth place in the standings.
Bethels remaining playoff hopes rested solely in the hands of St. Johns, as a Johnnie win or tie against St. Olaf would see Bethel claim the fifth and final playoff spot. However, the Oles were able to extend their earlier lead into an 8-3 win, putting them into a tie with Bethel, and into the playoffs due to the tiebreaking system.
With the teams and seedings set, so are the matchups.
Augsburg hosts St. Olaf on Friday, with the winner playing at first place Gustavus Adolphus Saturday. Also on Saturday, second place Hamline hosts third ranked St. Thomas. The winners of Saturdays games meet on Wednesday for the MIAC Championship.
St. Olaf at Augsburg: Friday, February 26, 2010, 8:05 p.m.
St. Olaf Oles
MIAC Standings: Fifth
Overall Record: 12-9-2
MIAC Record: 6-6-4
MIAC Goals Scored: 53
MIAC Goals Allowed: 51
MIAC Standings: Fourth
MIAC Record: 8-7-1
Overall Record: 19-5-1
MIAC Goals Scored: 46
MIAC Goals Allowed 48
Last season saw Augsburg finish in the same position with an identical league record. Their overall record, though, was 9-15-1. While they may have finished in the same position with many of the same players, this is not the same Augsburg team from a year ago. Their defense has improved by leaps and bounds, giving up 36 fewer goals compared to last season.
Much of the improvement comes from returning much of last years team, and playing better within head coach Chris Browns system. Another large part of the defensive improvement can be laid on the shoulders of Justin Lochner. The standout freshman goalie posted a 2.42 goals against average and .915 save percentage in conference play this year, numbers which would improve the defensive statistics of most teams in the nation.
After winning the MIAC regular season title last season, some teams might be disappointed finishing in fifth place and barely making the playoffs.
For St. Olaf, however, its all about peaking at the right time of the season. Having to fight tooth-and-nail to make the playoffs could be a boon to this young team, as the players know what will be demanded of them in the playoffs. Last season the Oles fell in their first playoff game, losing to fourth seeded Hamline, 5-1, to unceremoniously end their season. This time theyll be looking to flip things around and send a higher seeded team home.
Statistically, the Auggies and Oles are very similar. Both have solid goaltending, with St. Olafs Ben Leis putting up a 2.56 GAA and .917 save pct., compared to Augsburgs Justin Lochners 2.38 and .919. Augsburgs penalty kill is 15th in the nation at 85.5%, while St. Olaf sits at 22nd with a success rate of 84.3%. On the power play, Augsburg is 25th in the nation, converting on 21.6% of their chances, while St. Olaf is 42nd with an 18.7% rate.
While these numbers are pretty much all a tossup between the two teams, there is one significant difference between them. Augsburg averages only 13 penalty minutes a game while the Oles are busted for 18.5 per game. Spending an average of five extra minutes in the penalty box can have a big impact on a game, especially when two teams are otherwise evenly matched.
Both teams rely heavily on their top lines to lead the way offensively. Augsburgs top three of Sauer, Grogan, and Johnson combined to score 43 of their teams 76 goals this season, and no other player has scored more than six for the Auggies. For St. Olaf, Tranvik, Smith, and Britton have combined for 41 of the Oles 84 goals.
Prediction: This is essentially a coin flip. It sounds clich, but whichever team can capitalize on their chances, be effective on special teams, and stay out of the box should end up winning this game.
This will be the fourth time these two meet this season, and the third time they play at Augsburgs arena. Both previous games here saw Augsburg outshoot the Oles rather handily, although both games were close until the end. Because of that, Im predicting Augsburg will win to advance to the semifinals. That said, about the only thing that would surprise me in this game would be a lopsided affair; this is anyones game to win.
St. Thomas at Hamline: Saturday, February 27, 2010
MIAC Standings: Second
Overall Record: 16-5-4
MIAC Record: 11-3-2
MIAC Goals Scored: 65
MIAC Goals Allowed 38
St. Thomas Tommies
MIAC Standings: Third
Overall Record: 11-10-4
MIAC Record: 8-6-2
MIAC Goals Scored: 51
MIAC Goals Allowed 58
When a team scores 13 goals in a two game series, its usually a safe bet that they had a successful weekend. For Hamline, however, their 13 goals against St. Thomas earlier in the year only resulted in a split. The Pipers got behind early in the first game and could never recover en route to a 7-4 loss. Hamline responded the next night, posting a 9-2 victory and limiting St. Thomass scoring to only two power-play goals.
The Pipers have had a great season, and were fighting for the regular season title until the final weekend. After losing their first game of the season, Hamline went on a tremendous run, going 8-0-2 through the first half of the season. The second half of the season brought some problems, however. After not having given up more than three goals in any of their first 11 games, the Pipers gave up four or more goals six times in their final 14.
Part of the reason for their struggles had been lights out goaltending turning into just solid goaltending, while a more difficult second half schedule also made the going tougher. Regardless of how they ended the season, this is the time that teams need to be playing their best hockey. The playoffs are often referred to as the second season for a reason — all records should be thrown out the window as this is the chance teams have played all season for. No ones going to lay down for an opponent, and with a single elimination format, upsets are bound to happen.
Hamlines last series against Concordia (MN) could have been the best thing for them going into the playoffs.
The Cobbers played hard for 60 minutes both nights, flying up and down the ice, playing the body, and doing their best to break up any flow for t