It’s been an up-and-down month for the St. Thomas men’s hockey team.
The Tommies have played nine games since the start of 2013 and are 4-4-1 during that stretch, including a 5-1 win over Bethel last Saturday that snapped a three-game losing streak.
Yet despite all of the madness that comes with playing in the rugged and highly-competitive Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, St. Thomas is still within striking distance of a conference title. The Tommies are one point out of first place, and own an 8-5-1 league mark. They are 11-10-2 overall.
“This is a tough league; you can’t take a night off,” St. Thomas coach Jeff Boeser said. “Every team is good and is well-coached. It all comes down to being prepared to play every night, because everyone is battling for a playoff spot at this point.”
For the Tommies, the offensive production is what has been the most difficult thing to get on track as of late. St. Thomas has been held to two goals or less five times since Jan. 5, including being shut out twice.
They have put up three or more goals four times, and have cranked out 59 goals on the season. They are averaging nearly 30 shots per game (28.5).
“Our offensive output hasn’t been real good lately,” Boeser said. “We are getting a lot of shots off and playing hard, but when you don’t get goals, it wears on you mentally. We’ve been working to rectify it.”
One way the Tommies have approached improvement on the offensive end of the ice is to get more aggressive with second-chance opportunities.
Riley Horgan leads the Tommies with five goals and 13 assists. Alex Altenbernd has tallied seven goals and seven assists, while Michael Krieg, Connor McBride and Chris Cass have all scored five goals.
“We need to get more greasy around the net and look for those rebound opportunities,” Boeser said. “We’re getting shots, but just haven’t been able to get the puck to go in. We have to battle for those extra chances.”
If the Tommies can get their offense back on track, they will be poised to make a run at the conference tournament title and NCAA tournament, because their defense has been one of the best in the league all season.
St. Thomas has allowed only 44 goals, the best mark in the conference, including just 12 on the power play. Goalie Drew Fielding has played in 18 games this season and has racked up 384 saves. Tyler Simcoe has tallied 112 saves in six games.
“I am real happy with our defensive effort,” Boeser said. “We take a lot of pride in playing good defense. It’s something we work hard on every day. It’s a collective effort by everyone on the defense. Everyone is out there doing his job.”
The Tommies do not play again until Feb. 14, when they host Augsburg. They wrap up the regular season on Feb. 16 with a road game against Augsburg.
Boeser said the team is using the extra time to fine-tune everything.
“We’re working a lot on individual things, which is something we don’t get a chance to do often during the week when we are preparing for a game,” Boeser said. “We haven’t scaled back our practices at all, but we did give the players an extra day off this week.”
The break is a much-needed one for the team as it gears up for the postseason.
“It’s important for the players to have fresh legs and fresh minds,” Boeser said. “We want them to be as rested as possible so that they are ready to go for the end of the regular season and the playoffs.”
Oles on a roll
St. Olaf has won five of its last six games, including earning a split with Augsburg in a key MIAC series this past weekend. The Oles stretched their win streak to five on Friday night with a 4-1 win over the Auggies, but had their streak snapped in a 2-1 loss on Saturday. Jeff Harris scored twice in the win, and the Oles held a 35-26 edge in shots. Henrik Wood made 35 saves for his eighth win of the season. The Oles are 9-3 in the conference standings and sit alone in first place. They are 10-9-2 overall and have four games remaining, starting with a home-and-home series against St. John’s this week.
Johnnies in top three
St. John’s is in third place in the conference this week after grinding out a split against St. Mary’s this past weekend. The Johnnies blanked the Cardinals, 6-0, on Friday night, but were beaten 2-1 in overtime in the finale on Saturday. It was the first loss for St. John’s since a 3-1 setback to Wisconsin-River Falls on Jan. 5. The Johnnies are 5-4-3 in the MIAC and 10-7-4 overall. St. John’s has won four games since the beginning of 2013, and has skated to three ties. They are still in contention for the conference title as they battle St. Olaf in a two-game series this week, and wrap up the regular season with a two-game set against Bethel.
St. Mary’s ended a five-game winless streak on Saturday with its 2-1 overtime win against St. John’s. The Cardinals had been blanked in their last two games, but scored twice on Saturday to secure a much-needed win. Bobby Thompson scored the game-winner with 1:30 left in the extra session. Jason Horstman nailed down his first win of the season as he racked up 32 saves. Nick Gualano scored the other goal for the Cardinals, who are in fourth place in the conference standings at 6-5-1. The Cardinals are 8-12-1 overall. They close the regular season with a home-and-home against Gustavus and a two-game homestand against Concordia.