If anyone had any doubt about the parity in the MIAC after the regular season, this weekends playoff games put that to rest — in a hurry. On Wednesday, St. Thomas heads down to St. Peter to face off against Gustavus Adolphus for the MIAC Championship.
Lets first take a step back and look at the events that brought us to this point.
Three games were played this past weekend, combining for an eye popping seven overtime periods. Two Division III NCAA records were set: saves and longest game ever. Its also possible there was a record set for most shots in a game, but more on that later.
The first game of the weekend seemingly set the tone for the other two. In the play-in game, fourth seeded Augsburg hosted fifth seeded St. Olaf on Friday. Both teams traded goals in the first period, in what seemed like the start of a regular playoff game.
Augsburg and St. Olaf Set the Tone
St. Olaf took a 2-1 lead just 12 seconds into the second period, and there the score would stay until there was less than a minute remaining in regulation. Thats when the drama started — and it didnt end for over 30 minutes later.
With Augsburgs net empty, Mario Mjelleli scored his second goal of the game to knot the score at 2-2 and send things to overtime. Both teams would get chances in the extra time, but both goalies were up to the task, sending the game to a second overtime.
St. Olafs Ben Leis was tremendous in net, turning away 47 shots by the time all was said and done, including several game-saving ones. Augsburgs Justin Lochner was also up to the task, eventually stopped 39 shots, including 18 in overtime alone.
With the clock ticking past midnight, it seemed like this game might go on and on. About nine minutes into the second overtime, a rare penalty was called against St. Olaf, putting Augsburg on the power play. Thirty seconds later, the game was over, as Nick Guran knocked in a rebound past a sprawling Leis, and Augsburg began their celebration.
This was one of those games where no matter who you were rooting for, you felt bad for the team that lost. Both teams proved they were up to the task, and it was almost a shame that someone had to come out on the short end. Both teams played hard for the entire game in a tense playoff atmosphere, and in the end the Auggies came out on top in the third longest NCAA Division III game ever. Their celebration wouldnt last long though, as they would face Gustavus Adolphus in a semifinal game in less than 19 hours.
Tommies Gun Down the Pipers
The other seminal game on Saturday pitted second ranked Hamline against third seeded St. Thomas. Coming into the game, Hamline had the better season and better overall numbers, but had split their two games against St. Thomas, with each team winning in a blowout.
In front of a raucous split crowd at Drake Arena, Hamline opened the scoring just 30 seconds into the game, sending their fans into a frenzy. Halfway through the period, though, St. Thomas would score two quick goals and take a 2-1 lead into the second.
Throughout the game, Hamline got their best offensive looks when they were able to hold the zone, cycle the puck, and apply steady pressure. St. Thomas, meanwhile, got several chances through transition, and did a tremendous job clogging up passing lanes and forcing the Pipers to make quick decisions with the puck or risk turning it over.
The second period saw both teams get several chances, but the score remained 2-1 in favor of St. Thomas as time dwindled down. A late power-play opportunity for St. Thomas was quickly cashed in for a 3-1 lead with just over one minute left, and that was the score as the teams headed to their locker rooms in preparation for the third period.
Both teams played somewhat tentatively to start the third, with St. Thomas playing defensively, and Hamline appearing to focus more on avoiding mistakes than in generating offense. A little less than seven minutes into the third, St. Thomas Steve Murphy broke free alone to the Hamline net, but was slashed and wasnt able to get a shot away.
The split crowd murmured anxiously, then roared in both excitement and dismay as the referee raised his arms above his head to signal a penalty shot. Murphy brought the puck in slowly, made his move, then slipped the puck in on a backhand to give the Tommies a 4-1 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining.
After that point though, the game turned decidedly in Hamlines favor. Less than a minute later, the Pipers were given a chance on the power play, and scored 15 seconds later, cutting the lead to 4-2. Five minutes later, Hamline was controlling play, generating chances, and drew another penalty from St. Thomas. Hamline wasnt able to score while on the power play, but a scramble in front of the net resulted in a goal just after the penalty expired, before the fifth St. Thomas skater could join into the play.
Hamline continued to apply pressure, desperately trying to tie the score to keep their season alive, and with under three minutes to go, Spencer Anderson knotted it at 4-4, silencing the St. Thomas portion of the crowd and sending the Piper fans into a frenzy.
Neither team was able to score in the dying minutes of the third, and yet another MIAC playoff game was headed to overtime.
The extra session started off much more evenly than the third period ended, with both teams trying to generate chances without sacrificing on defense. St. Thomas looked very dangerous in transition, even on 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 rushes. Hamline continued to try and hold the puck in the Tommie zone, and got several good looks, but werent able to beat St. Thomas goaltender Joe Shraeder, having several shots blocked by St. Thomas defenders or just missing wide of the net.
Hamlines best chance came just past 10 minutes into the overtime period. Shraeder made the initial save, but was down and had left a rebound to the left of the net. A Piper forward skated in, with a mostly empty net staring him in the face.
The puck bounced over his stick, though, was picked up by St. Thomas, and quickly brought down the right wing. After bringing the puck into the faceoff circle to the left of Hamline goaltender Beau Christian, Andrew Kappers fired a shot to the far post that beat Christian, sending the Tommies streaming off their bench to celebrate the 5-4 win and move them into the MIAC championship game.
Even though this game started after the other semifinal game, the Tommies didnt yet know whether theyd be traveling to face Gustavus or staying home to play Augsburg. Even though St. Thomas won over 10 into overtime, word had trickled into Drake Arena that the other semifinal game was still going on .
One for the Ages
I could devote an entire column summarizing the Augsburg-Gustavus game, and it still wouldnt do it justice. The Gusties rink has a tremendous atmosphere for any game, but when packed full of fans, in a do-or-die playoff game, it goes to another level. After attending the Hamline-St. Thomas game, I tuned in online to watch the second overtime of the Gustavus-Augsburg game.
Before I did so, however, I missed out on a lot of scoring. Augsburg tallied first, but then were forced to come back from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits, before roaring back to a 5-3 lead. Gustavus scored near the end of the second period to make it 5-4, and then finally tied things up with under four minutes to go in regulation. It would be over 80 minutes before someone scored again.
Less than 24 hours after winning the third longest D-III game in history, the Auggies were headed back to overtime. The wear of all those minutes finally began to show, and the Gusties began to take control of the game. The Gusties held a 44-33 shot advantage through the first three periods, which isnt a huge margin, but through overtime Gustavus outshot the Auggies 60-24.
Freshman Justin Lochner was in net for Augsburg, and for