St. Olaf wants to win a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship as much as any team in the league, and the Oles took a big step toward the title this past weekend.
They accomplished something that doesn’t happen to often in the balanced conference, and that is sweep an opponent, especially a national power such as St. Thomas.
The Oles won both games by 3-2 scores, and have risen to first place in the standings as they enter the final month of the regular season.
St. Olaf is 9-8-2 overall and 8-2 in the conference, two games up on the Tommies in the loss column.
“Anytime you can get a sweep in the league, it can pay off in the long run,” St. Olaf coach Sean Goldsworthy said. “There is so much parity in the league, and it always helps when you can create a little separation.”
One of the keys to success against the Tommies was the play of Henrik Wood in goal. Wood was phenomenal in the opener at St. Thomas, racking up 47 saves on a night when the Tommies held a 49-22 edge in shots.
Wood made 24 saves in the finale, and his play throughout this season is a reason why St. Olaf is still in the mix for the conference championship.
Wood has played in 11 games and has racked up 292 saves while giving up 23 goals. He owns a 2.14 goals-against average.
“He has really elevated himself from a goalie that was splitting time to being a No. 1 goalie,” Goldsworthy said. “He has earned the right to be the top goalie, and he has played very well.”
Jeff Harris helped pave the way in the wins over St. Thomas, scoring four goals on the weekend. The junior forward has racked up a team-best 13 goals on the year, and has also dished out eight assists.
Dan Cecka, Kevin Harris, and Mark Rath have all scored six goals apiece.
“Our top line has been outstanding all season; it’s one of the best in the conference,” Goldsworthy said. “But we have done a good job lately of creating secondary scoring and have become a more balanced team offensively. A lot of the younger guys have stepped up, and you need to be able to have balance to be successful.”
St. Olaf has won its last four games, including a two-game sweep of Bethel earlier this month.
The success of the Oles isn’t a surprise. One only needs to go back and look at the schedule they played at the beginning of January.
St. Olaf came off the holiday break and played Wisconsin-Stevens Point and St. Norbert on the road. The Oles lost 5-2 to Wis.-Stevens Point and fell 6-3 to St. Norbert.
The Oles turned around and played Wisconsin-Eau Claire at home and skated to a 2-2 tie.
All three teams are currently ranked in the USCHO.com poll, with St. Norbert and Wis.-Eau Claire ranked in the top five, and Goldsworthy said those games have helped prepare his team for the stretch run of the MIAC schedule.
“Our nonconference schedule has been very tough; we played three of the best teams in the West earlier this month, and I thought we competed well, even though we didn’t get the results we wanted,” Goldsworthy said. “Now, we’re in the hunt for a playoff spot and conference championship, and the important thing for us is to stay focused and stay the course.”
St. Olaf has six games left on the schedule, including three at home, and has a legit shot at the conference crown after being picked to finish third. The Oles were the runner-up in the conference tournament last season.
“We knew our final four weeks, starting with the St. Thomas series, were going to be the most difficult for us,” Goldsworthy said. “It’s important for us to stay focused, because we can be beaten on any given night. If we continue to play well, we’ll be right where we want to be at the end of the year.”
Concordia fell 7-4 to Gustavus-Adolphus on Friday before bouncing back with a 3-1 win on Saturday.
The Cobbers scored three goals in the third period to seal the deal, and they ended a three-game win streak. Gustavus held a 35-27 edge in shots, but Tyler Venne made 24 saves to help secure the win.
The Cobbers are currently third in the conference standings with a 6-6 record, and remain in the hunt for a MIAC playoff berth.
Johnnies on a roll
St. John’s capped a sweep of Hamline on Saturday, and has not lost in its last six games. The Johnnies rolled to a 5-1 win over the Pipers in the finale.
St. John’s held a 31-20 edge in shots in the win, and John Haeg scored twice, pushing his season goal total to nine. Phil Johnson scored one goal and had a hand in three assists as the Johnnies improved to 9-6-4 overall and to 4-3-3 in the conference.
The Johnnies have won three times and have tied three times during their streak, and have scored two or more goals four times. They are in fourth place in the league standings.
St. Mary’s is in fifth place in the conference standings at the moment, and is still in the hunt for a postseason berth.
The Cardinals were swept by Augsburg over the weekend, and have lost their last three games. They have just two wins in their last 11 games, a stretch that includes one tie, and will play a key series against St. John’s this weekend. Both games will be on the road.
The two teams played once back in October in the conference showcase, and the Johnnies rolled to an 8-1 win.
St. Mary’s has scored 59 goals on the year and has allowed 77. Mike Hill has been the key to the offensive success of the Cardinals, having tallied 11 goals and 10 assists.