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St. John’s, St. Thomas early-season favorites in MIAC play

Soley sized St. Johns, St. Thomas early season favorites in MIAC play

Reigning MIAC player of the year Saxton Soley is hoping for an encore season in 2013-14 with St. John’s (photo: Caleb Williams/d3photography.com).

It’s time for another season in the MIAC and don’t be surprised if the league race is as tight as it was a season ago.

A total of three points was all that separated co-champions St. Thomas and St. John’s (21 points) from fifth-place St. Olaf (18 points).

Gustavus and Concordia were just one point shy of the top spot, tallying 20 points apiece as they finished in third and fourth, respectively.

“Like last year, I expect the league to be extremely balanced, with a great deal of parity from top to bottom,” Gustavus Adolphus coach Brett Petersen said. “Just one point separated the top four teams. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see that kind of balance this season as well.”

Gustavus went on to play for the championship, falling 4-2 to St. John’s. St. Olaf and St. Thomas were both eliminated the by the Gusties in the tourney, while the Johnnies took out Concordia en route to the title.

The Johnnies represented the league in the NCAA tournament as well and fell 4-2 to Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which went on to win the national title.

The Johnnies are certainly talented enough to do it all over again, especially with the return of goalie Saxton Soley and forwards John Haeg and Justin Hochsprung.

Yet, their road to another championship will not come easy as several teams are capable of making a run.

The Tommies are one of those teams. Goalie Drew Fielding is back for the Tommies as is All-American defenseman Michael Krieg and forward Alex Altenbernd.

St. Thomas coach Jeff Boeser likes the dedication he has seen from his team in the preseason.

“We have a very determined group of student-athletes that bring tremendous work ethic and leadership,” Boeser said. “They chose to organize 6:30 a.m. workouts all fall with our school’s strength coach.”

Considering what the Johnnies and Tommies have back, it’s not a surprise they are the favorites for the title.

St. Mary’s coach Bill Moore isn’t surprised, although that doesn’t mean any wins are guaranteed.

“St. John’s and St. Thomas are my picks for the early leaders, but anyone can win on any given weekend,” Moore said. “The new three-point games and shootouts will definitely put a twist on this year’s final standings. It will be very exciting.”

Gustavus should be in good shape with forwards Adam Smyth and Jack Walsh back in the fold and Concordia is going to count on star goalie Chris Neamontis to stay in the hunt for a championship. Neamontis won 10 games in conference play, the most wins by any goalie.

St. Olaf will look to rise in the standings this year with forward Dan Cecka and goalie Henrik Wood back, while Augsburg will count on Ben McClellan and B.J. McClellan to fuel an offense that should keep the Auggies in the hunt for a playoff berth and perhaps even make them a surprise contender in the conference.

Bethel is counting on forward Mitch Hughes and defenseman Tony Larson to pave the way and St. Mary’s will look to improve behind the return of forwards Austin Balko and Bobby Thompson. Hamline only has one way to go, and that is up, and its hopes of improvement will hinge heavily on the play of All-American defenseman Joe Ruebbelke and forward Brandon Zurn.

One thing is for sure, if a team wants to be successful in the MIAC, it needs to show up ready to play.

“This time of year, every coach is excited about his team and has high expectations,” Boeser said. “Our league is so balanced and well-coached that you have to bring your A-plus game every night to have a chance to win.”

Augsburg

Nickname: Auggies

2012-13 Record: 8-14-3 overall, 6-8-2 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Did Not Qualify

Head Coach: Chris Brown (76-89-15, eighth season)

Key Returning Players: F Ben McClellan (11-8–19); D Chris Student (1-7–8); F B.J. McClellan (8-4–12)

Key Departures: G Justin Lochner (3.03 GAA, .895 save percentage); D Landon Olson (6-4–10); D Logan Egan (2-3–5)

Key Newcomers: G Matthew Bartels, F Corbin Chapman, F Will Barber, F Dylan Meier, D Kyle Olson

Prediction and Thoughts: 6th — The Auggies have several voids to fill, including at goalie where Justin Lochner graduated with a a goals against average of 2.80 in his career. Offensively, though, Augsburg should be in good shape, especially with the return of junior Ben McClellan and senior B.J. McClellan. Ben led the team in goals and assists and has tallied 18 goals and 19 assists in his career. B.J. proved he can be a clutch player, scoring a pair of game-winning goals, and has racked up 18 goals and 12 assists in his career. Senior Chris Student will be counted on as well. He earned All-MIAC honors and settled in nicely at Augsburg after playing at Northeastern and Minnesota early in his career. The key for the Auggies is to pick up where it left off on special teams last season. On their power-plays, the Auggies scored 19 goals and only allowed three short-handed goals.

 

Bethel

Nickname: Royals

2012-13 Record: 7-18 overall, 7-11 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Did Not Qualify

Head Coach: Charlie Burggraf (19-50-6, fourth season)

Key Returning Players: W Mitch Hughes (15-11–26); D Tony Larson (8-9–17); C Brock Raffaele (6-10–16); F Garrett Windle (8-5–13)

Key Departures: F Jack Paul (8-18–26);  D Jon Crouse (0-8–8); F Dan Rowland (5-7–12)

Key Newcomers: D Michael Bond (2-13–15); D Travis Walls

Prediction and Thoughts: 7th — The Royals lost three of their best players, including four-time All-MIAC selections Jack Paul and Jon Crouse. They are the only four-time all-conference selections in program history. But Mitch Hughes is back and that is good news. Hughes got on a roll after failing to score in the first eight games and tallied at least one point in 11 consecutive games. He racked up 12 goals during the stretch and finished with 18 goals on the year as he earned a spot on the all-rookie team. Tony Larson also earned all-rookie honors in the league. Brock Raffaele and Garrett Windle will also play key roles for the Royals after tallying six and eight goals, respectively, last season. Freshman Michael Bond played well last season for the Austin Bruins of the NAHL and will look to carry that success into college. Travis Walls could make an immediate impact as well after playing two seasons with the Rochester Stars. Bethel has a diverse roster as players from 14 states and Canada are on it, including seven from Minnesota.

 

Concordia (Minn.)

Nickname: Cobbers

2012-13 Record: 13-12-1, 10-6 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Lost 5-1 to St. John’s in the semifinal round of the MIAC tourament

Head Coach: Chris Howe  (44-68-16, sixth season)

Key Returning Players: D Caleb Suderman (7-7–14); F Jordie Bancroft (12-10–22); C Tucker Coborn (8-9–17), G Chris Neamonitis (2.34 GAA, .927 save percentage)

Key Departures: F Ben Payne (7-13–20);  F Brian King (6-10–16)

Key Newcomers:  F Garrett Hendrickson, G Jordyn Kaufer, D Alex Koopmeiners, F Christian Axelsson, F Jeremy Johnson, F Jordan Christianson, F Quinn Buckellew, D Ben McWilliams, F Sam Coborn, D Jordan Krebsbach

Prediction and Thoughts: 4th — Concordia is coming off its third consecutive season in which it has won 10 or more games. Pushing that streak to four shouldn’t be a problem as seven seniors are on the roster and the Cobbers return players who accounted for 59 of their 79 goals. Leading the way is sophomore forward Jordie Bancroft, who struck for 12 goals and 10 assists as a freshman. He earned All-MIAC honors as well. Caleb Suderman is also back and is one of the scoring defenseman in the conference. He tallied seven goals and seven assists last year and is a three-time All-MIAC pick. Tucker Coborn is also back.The sophomore scored eight goals and dished out nine assists last year. As good as Concordia should be offensively, they should be equally tough on defense with the return of goalie Chris Neamonitis. The senior netminder was an honorable mention All-MIAC selection last year and was fifth in the league in goals against average (2.34). He made 663 saves and fashioned a 13-9 record. His presence will give the Cobbers a chance to contend for the league title.

 

Gustavus Adolphus

Nickname: Gusties

2012-13 Record: 17-8-3 overall, 9-5-2 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Gustavus lost 4-2 to St. John’s in the MIAC championship game. It defeated St. Olaf (5-2) and St. Thomas (1-0) to advance to the final.

Head Coach: Brett Petersen (182-141-28, 14th season)

Key Returning Players: F Adam Smyth (12-9–21), F Jack Walsh (13-7–20);

Key Departures:  G Tyler Venne (2.25 GAA, .917 save percentage); D Brenden Baker (5-7–12)

Key Newcomer: F Sam Majka (0-4-4).

Prediction and Thoughts: 3rd -  Gustavus didn’t start off conference play well last year, dropping its first four games, but the Gusties finished strong, fashioning a 10-2-2 record after the holiday break.  The momentum carried them all the way to the championship game of the MIAC tournament and they seem to have the talent in place to do it again. Adam Smyth is the team’s top returning scorer and is coming off a season where he recorded two hat tricks. Four of his goals came off the power play. Walsh was the most clutch player for the Gusties, scoring seven game-winning goals, the second-best total in the nation in NCAA Division III. He finished his season strong, scoring nine goals and tallying five assists in the final 11 games of the year. If Gustavus  can be the team that strikes first as it was a year ago when it went 14-2-1 when scoring the first goal, it will be in the mix for the MIAC championship.

 

Hamline

Nickname: Pipers

2012-13 Record: 1-19-5 overall, 1-12-3 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Did Not Qualify

Head Coach: Doc DelCastillo (1-19-5, second season)

Key Returning Players: D Joe Rubbelke (7-14–21); F Brandon Zurn (8-12–20); G Nick Heimer (4.45 GAA, .823 save percentage)

Key Departures: G Matt Hemingway (3.24 GAA, .887 save percentage)

Key Newcomer: F Chris Williford (17 goals)

Prediction and Thoughts: 9th –  The Pipers have nowhere to go but up this season and they are hoping to make strides behind the play of junior defenseman Joe Rubbelke, an All-MIAC selection last year. Rubbelke is a team captain this season and had the most points of any defenseman in the league with 21. Brandon Zurn will play a key role as well as he struck for eight goals and 12 assists en route to earning all-rookie team honors in the conference. Goalie Nick Heimer will be counted on to raise his game with the loss of Matt Hemingway. Heimer gave up 4.45 goals per game in 17 games and racked up 153 saves. Chris Williford could make an immediate impact as a freshman after tallying 17 goals a season ago with Rochester of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. Hamline returns a total of 16 players and that experience should help the Pipers take a step forward this season.

 

St. John’s

Nickname: Johnnies

2012-13 Record: 16-8-4 overall, 9-4-3 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Won the MIAC tournament championship with a 3-2 win over Gustavus. Defeated Concordia 5-1 in the semifinal round. Advanced to NCAA tournament where it lost 4-2 to Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Head Coach: Doug Schueller (52-64-13, sixth season)

Key Returning Players: G Saxton Soley (1.33 GAA, 94.5 save percentage); F John Haeg (11-19–30); F Justin Hochsprung (11-13–24)

Key Departures: F Tobias Linbro (7-2–9); F Michael Palmiscno (5-11–16); F Jascha Pettit (8-12–20).

Key Newcomers: F Andrew Commers (transfer from RPI and 2012 graduate of St. Thomas Academy); F Tyson Fulton (transfer from Union, did not play last season); D Brady Riesgraf (tallied one goal and 16 assists for Coulee Region Chill last season in NAHL).

Prediction and Thoughts: 1st – There is no question that St. John’s will be experienced as the Johnnies return all eight of their All-MIAC players from last season. John Haeg, Justin Hochsprung, Saxton Soley and Phil Johnson were first-team picks while defensemen Trent Johnson, Axel Ramsgard, Wally Cossette and Nick Senta were honorable mention selections. Soley set a record for wins (15) for a freshman and was the co-player of the year in the conference. With him back in goal, the Johnnies will have a chance to win every night. Haeg is back after leading the team in scoring for the second consecutive year and Hochsprung played well down the stretch as he scored seven goals and dished out four assists in the final six games. Mix in the other returnees with a cast of talented newcomers and the Johnnies are poised for another title run. One of their keys to success will be their penalty-kill rate. They boasted a percentage of 86.9 percent last season, good enough for seventh in the nation.

 

St. Mary’s

Nickname: Cardinals

2012-13 Record: 8-16-1 overall, 6-9-1 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Did Not Qualify

Head Coach: Bill Moore (39-104-8, seventh season)

Key Returning Players: F Austin Balko (9-8–17); F Bobby Thompson (10-11–21); D Bob Marx (6-9–15).

Key Departures: F Michael Hill (12-12–24); F Kevin Wentland (7-9–16); G Andy Scheib (3.78 GAA, .876 save percentage)

Key Newcomers: G Hunter Fernandez, G Devon Dell, F Zach Thielen, F Phil Heinle, D Mike Mezzano, D Connor Langfield, F Nick Albergo, F Martin Gruse, D Brad Hauser, F Nick Brusa

Prediction and Thoughts: 8th – The Cardinals are coming off their best season since the 2007-08 campaign when they won nine games and their hope is that the momentum will carry over into this season. Austin Balko will no doubt need to rise to the occasion again after earning honorable mention All-MIAC honors last season. He led the team in short-handed goals with three and scored a game-winner. Bobby Thompson and Bob Marx will be counted on heavily as well. Thompson was an honorable mention All-MIAC pick and scored four goals on the power play. Marx is not only a solid defensive player but he is the Cardinals’ top offensive threat on the defense. If those three are as productive as expected, the Cardinals will be in good shape. Christian Gaffy brings some experience to the goalie position as he played in five games last year and tallied 125 saves. But he will be pushed for playing time by Mitch Fernsler, which gives the Cardinals a little depth at a key position.

 

St. Olaf

Nickname: Oles

2012-13 Record:  10-14-2 overall, 9-7 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Lost 3-2 to Gustavus in the opening round of the MIAC tournament.

Head Coach: Sean Goldsworthy (170-193-51, 17th season)

Key Returning Players: F Dan Cecka (9-13–22); G Henrik Wood (2.34 GAA,.924 save percentage); D Jon Avino (0-3–3); D Geoff Gieni (0-11–11)

Key Departures: F Jeff Harris (16-8–24); F Kevin Harris (6-14–20) F Ross Trousdale (6-6–12)

Key Newcomers: D John Feemster, D Jonas Fredrickson, D Chris Hansen, F Steven Sherman, F Andy Jordahl, F Patrick Sivets, F JT Payne, G Logan Cloutier

Prediction and Thoughts: 5th – Despite losing All-MIAC selections Jeff and Kevin Harris, the Oles should still be one of the teams contending for a playoff berth in the conference this season. Dan Cecka returns to lead the way. He is coming off a season where he tallied 15 points in conference play and earned honorable mention honors in the league. Henrik Wood is back to man the goalie position after allowing 36 goals and making 439 saves a year ago. Two key defensemen are back for the Oles as well in Jon Avino and Geoff Gieni. Finding other scoring options will be vital to the success of St. Olaf. Sophomore forwards Mark Rath and Andrew Anderson should provide that scoring punch after tallying seven and five goals, respectively, last season. Finishing the season strong will also be important. St. Olaf might have won the conference championship had it not been for a five-game losing streak to end the regular season.

 

St. Thomas

Nickname: Tommies

2012-13 Record: 13-11-2 overall, 10-5-1 MIAC

2012-13 Postseason: Lost 1-0 to Gustavus in semifinal round of MIAC tournament.

Head Coach: Jeff Boeser (45-27-6, fourth season)

Key Returning Players: F Alex Altenbernd (8-8–16); D Michael Krieg (6-9–15); F Tyler Gubb (7-5–12); D Jeremy Hepler (0-2–2); F Alex Niestrom (5-0–5); G Drew Fielding (1.69 GAA, .929 save percentage); D Steve Sorensen (2-3–5)

Key Departures: D Robbie Vannelli (3-2–5); F Riley Horgan (5-13–18); F Travis Baker (3-11–14)

Key Newcomers: F Charlie Adams (transfer from Nebraska-Omaha); F Thomas Williams, Michael Dockry, F Chase Paylor

Prediction and Thoughts: 2nd — St. Thomas earned a share of the conference championship last season, but it did not translate into an appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Tommies,who have won 31 MIAC regular-season titles, will be looking for their 16th NCAA tourney berth this year. St. Thomas certainly has the ability to get the job done. With scoring threats Alex Altenbernd, Tyler Gubb and Alex Niestrom all back, the offense shouldn’t miss too much of a beat. It doesn’t hurt that Michael Krieg also returns after finishing last season as one of the top scoring defenseman in the conference. The addition of Division I transfer Charlie Adams should help as well while having Drew Fielding back in goal will give the Tommies an opportunity to win every night. If the Tommies are on top of their game, they will be tough to stop and this could very well be their year to raise the conference tournament championship trophy.


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