As the last weekend in January approaches, the highly-contested MCHA is taking shape, thanks in part to a schedule this season that featured the four top teams facing each other in the first three weekends of the month.
The big series this weekend features No. 14 Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) traveling to No. 6 Adrian. MSOE is just four points behind Adrian in the standings.
As important as the weekend series between the two teams is in the standings, and no matter what the outcome is, what is really important, especially to MSOE coach Mark Ostapina, is the education of the student-athlete at the Division III level.
“We will focus on them, as always, one shift, one period, one game at a time without losing sight of the big picture, which is 95 percent placement and the highest average starting salaries of any school in Wisconsin,” Ostapina said.
Ostapina, in his 11th season at MSOE, has built a program that has consistently been one of the top teams in the MCHA. MSOE has great depth, both offensively and defensively.
“Our balanced scoring comes from the fact we are able to roll all units throughout the game,” Ostapina said. “This is a great luxury, because we do not have to count on one player or one line for our scoring.
“Defensively, we have eight players who can play the game at a high level and since we do not play in the NFL, where defense does not matter anymore, the coaching staff is able to sleep well at night.”
This dynamic has created competition in practices during the week, which in turn, has bred success on the weekend.
“We have great battles Monday through Thursday.” Ostapina said.
The team averages almost four goals a game. MSOE is led offensively by Jordan Keizer, who has 10 goals and 21 points on the season. He also leads all Division III players with four short-handed goals. Todd Krupa and Cole Gibson have added 19 points, followed closely by Brad Tierney with 18.
Defensively, MSOE is tied for sixth in the nation, allowing only 2.12 goals a game, and it starts between the pipes for MSOE with its goalie.
After collecting many awards last year, including Third Team All-USCHO.com Division III and MCHA Player of the Year, senior goaltender Connor Toomey appears headed toward collecting more accolades, along with setting most, if not all, of MSOE goalie records before his career is over. Toomey draws high praise from Ostapina. The coach parallels this experience to his assistant coaching days at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in the early 1990s, when that school had an iron-man goaltender that would later become an NHL star.
“Having Connor is like my days at Massachusetts-Lowell with Dwayne Roloson,” Ostapina said of his current goalie and the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie. “Replacing ‘Rollie’ was tough, and that goes for Connor too. You do not find quality individuals like Rollie and Connor.”
Toomey has started over 20 games a season in his four years at MSOE. He has played in every game this season, logging in over 1,000 minutes in goal. His goals against average is currently 2.05, with a save percentage of .918.
While the focus of the players may be on Adrian for the weekend, it is the big picture of academics at the school that will drive the success of the team.
“The key with us is our ability to put outstanding young men into the work force and community,” Ostapina said. “The fact that they get one of the finest educations in the country sets them up for life, and that is something that the MSOE coaching staff takes great pride in.”
Player of the Week: Josh Cousineau, So., Adrian. In the biggest matchup in the league this past weekend, Cousineau was involved with five of the eight goals his team scored in the two wins over Marian. He began the series with a goal and two assists Friday, and then followed that up with a goal and assist in the second game for a five-point weekend.
Defensive Player of the Week: Chris Stansik, Sr., Adrian. For his on-ice effort against Marian, and his career as well, Stansik scored a goal Sunday for his 100th career point. He became the first MCHA defenseman to top that mark. He went on to add a pair of assists Monday, which also moved him past the MCHA career record for assists by a defenseman.
Freshman of the Week: Justin Scott, Finlandia. Scott helped his team to a weekend sweep of Lake Forest with a goal and an assist in Friday’s 4-3 win, and then added the game-winner on Saturday in another close one-goal game.
Athlete of the Week: J.D. Wells, Jr., St. John’s. With a sweep of second place Concordia (Minn.), St. John’s made considerable progress in the standings. Wells was a wall in front of the net, allowing just one goal in each game and recording 43 saves with a .956 save percentage to help secure the sweep. He allowed just one power-play goal in 9-of-10 power-play chances over the two games. In three conference starts this season, Wells is 3-0 with 1.67 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
Player of the Week: Johan Ryd, Sr., St. Norbert. Ryd scored three goals last weekend for St. Norbert in a sweep against Wisconsin-Stout, including both game-winning goals. Those two victories propelled St. Norbert into first place in the conference.