Not much was expected of Bethel this season. The Royals were picked to finish eighth in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference after winning only eight games a year ago.
So far, it looks like the Royals are in far better shape, going 4-4 through their first eight games, including a 3-1 mark in conference. They have won three of their last four games.
“We have played well enough to win all but one of our games, and we have done a good job of growing into our style of play,” Bethel coach Charlie Burggraf said. “For us, it’s just a matter of continuing to develop consistency and play our best hockey.”
A year ago, Bethel had gotten off to a strong start in league play as well, fashioning a 5-3 record, but struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs by one point.
“Part of it was that we didn’t have enough depth, and we also weren’t consistent enough,” Burggraf said. “We did a good job of recruiting in the offseason, and our new players have adapted well. I always compare the season in Division III to the NHL playoffs because there aren’t a lot of games and the competition is always good. Nothing comes easy, and we know we have to continue to improve.”
Several players have shined early for the Royals, including freshman forward Brock Raffaele, who has tallied three goals and three assists in the first eight games.
Senior forward Jack Paul, a three-time All-MIAC selection, has struck for three goals and three assists as well. Senior forward Dan Rowland (two goals, two assists) and freshman forward Mitch Hughes (five assists) have also been key players
“Jack is just a natural goal scorer,” Burggraf said. “Brock just has that gift to play hockey. He is very good, and I’m almost afraid to coach him because I don’t want to mess him up. Mitch has played very well early on, and we have had other players emerge, too, on the offensive end.”
Bethel has racked up 16 goals and has allowed 20. Senior defenseman Jon Crouse, who has landed on the All-MIAC team in each of his first three seasons, has led the defensive effort this season, and the play of goalies Dan Harper (10 goals allowed, 93 saves) and Matt Rowe (10 goals allowed, 109 saves) has been solid.
“We have an outstanding group on defense,” Burggraf said. “Jon has been a leader for us and other players have stepped up around him. Our goaltending has been great, and the overall defensive effort has been good.”
For Bethel though, the early success of the team goes beyond what it has done on the ice. The Royals have solid team chemistry as well, and it’s clearly made a difference.
“Our team has a lot of heart, and the players all get along,” Burggraf said. “You need players who are going to be selfless and are willing to do what is best for the team. The attitude of the team is a credit to our captains. They have been great leaders. Our players understand that you have to work as a team if you want to be successful.”
The road ahead is still long for Bethel, but the Royals are confident they can stay on the right track if they simply continue to play hard and work on improving each week.
“We have a lot of room for improvement, and our goal is to get better every time we step on the ice for a practice or a game,” Burggraf said. “I want our players to enjoy the journey and have fun playing this game. If we do that and we show up ready to play for every game, we will give ourselves a chance to be successful.”
Alone at the Top
St. Thomas is still unbeaten in conference play after capping a sweep of Gustavus with a 2-1 victory on Saturday. Pat Mahoney scored his first goal of the year late in the final period to break a 1-1 tie.
Tyrone Simcoe was stellar in goal, as he made 22 saves en route to pushing his record to 3-0 on the season. Simcoe has a 0.33 goals-against average and a save percentage of .984. Simcoe’s effort helped the Tommies dominate the two-game series, as St. Thomas outscored the Gusties, 8-1.
Jeff and Kevin Harris are brothers and both play for St. Olaf. The two played a key role in the Oles’ series finale against Hamline on Saturday, tallying one goal and one assist apiece in the 3-0 win over the Pipers. The win capped a two-game sweep of Hamline.
Jeff has scored three goals to go along with two assists on the season, while Kevin has come through with two goals and three assists. St. Olaf is 3-1 in league play and tied for second in the MIAC.
St. Mary’s has won its last three games heading into a showdown on Saturday against nationally-ranked Adrian in Michigan. The Cardinals have taken 29 shots on the year and have limited opponents to 19 shots.
Mike Hill and Austin Balko have tallied five goals apiece, while Andy Scheib has done most of the work in goal, tallying 98 saves in five games. St. Mary’s is 2-0 in the conference and 4-2 overall.
Concordia managed to earn a split in a series against Bethel over the weekend, winning the finale of the series by a 5-1 score.
The Cobbers scored three unanswered goals in the third period to secure the victory. Jordie Bancroft led the way, as he scored twice in the victory. Concordia improved to 3-4-1 overall and to 2-2 in the MIAC.
Bancroft, a freshman forward, is off to a sensational start to his career. He leads the team in scoring with four goals and three assists.