Well, the final week of the regular season has arrived for teams in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and a lot is still on the line, including deciding which team is going to win the regular season championship. All we know for sure at the moment is that St. Olaf is headed to the postseason. The Oles have already clinched a berth, and are currently in first place by a point in the conference standings.
I enter this week with a 60-50 record, which isn’t bad at all considering I had some rough weeks earlier this season trying to make predictions. It got to the point where I just thought about pulling names out of a hat and hoping for the best.
Four series are on tap for this week, starting with the opener of St. Thomas’ battle with Augsburg. Those teams will wrap the series up on Saturday.
Concordia and St. Mary’s are the only teams that won’t play a home-and-home this weekend. The Cardinals are hosting both games, and that could be crucial to their playoff hopes.
So without further delay, here are my final picks of the regular season.
Thursday and Saturday, Feb. 14 and Feb. 16
Augsburg vs. St. Thomas
The Tommies still have a chance to win another regular season conference championship. St. Thomas is 8-5-1 in league play and tied with St. John’s in points at 17. The Tommies have dropped three of four. and will start this series at home. They are coming off a 5-1 win over Bethel, and will need to be on top of their game on offense to be successful this weekend. How the Tommies play on defense will likely determine their fate. If they can limit opportunities for the Auggies and create a cushion on the scoreboard early on, they will be in good shape. Augsburg is on the outside looking in at the moment with a 6-6-2 record, which means the Auggies probably need to win both games to keep their playoff hopes alive. The good news for Augsburg is that it has won three consecutive games, scoring 15 goals during that stretch, and is going to need to find ways to capitalize on every opportunity against the Tommies. Ben McClellan leads the team in goals with 10, and he has to have a good series for the Auggies to thrive. This one will probably end in a split. St. Thomas 4-1, Augsburg 3-2
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 15-16
St. John’s vs. Bethel
The Johnnies are in a position to nail down the championship. They are coming off a sweep of St. Olaf and are playing with a lot of confidence. The Johnnies are 7-4-3 in league play and in second place, but a sweep of the Royals would give them a shot at the championship. St. John’s will have to earn a split to make sure it has a spot in the conference tournament, and its success hinges on how well it plays on defense. The Johnnies are allowing 1.97 goals per game, and have averaged nearly three per game (2.87). Saxton Soley has become one of the top young goalies in the league, having allowed only 29 goals. If he performs at a high level and the experienced defensemen in front of him do their job, the Johnnies are going to have a chance to sweep this series. Bethel is 6-8 in the conference, and will be looking to play spoiler. The Royals have lost their last three games, scoring only six goals during the streak, and if they are going to get a win in this series, it’s most likely to come on their home ice in the series opener. Mitch Hughes, who has scored 13 goals and tallied 11 assists, will need to have a monster weekend for the Royals to have a chance at success. It won’t be easy. St. John’s 4-2, 6-2
St. Olaf vs. Gustavus Adolphus
The Oles control their own destiny, as they sit atop the conference standings with a 9-5 record. St. Olaf already has a playoff berth wrapped up, but if it wants to guarantee a conference title, it needs to sweep this series. The Oles will be trying to snap a three-game losing streak when they play the opener of this series on the road. They need to get on track offensively, though, to make that happen. The Oles have scored only three goals during the losing streak, and their key to success hinges on how well Jeff Harris plays. Harris leads the Oles in scoring with 16 goals. If Harris plays well and Henrik Wood comes up big in goal, the Oles will put themselves in a position to win the title. Gustavus Adolphus is still in the championship hunt as well. The Gusties are 7-5-2 in conference play, and could win the title with a sweep of the Oles. Gustavus has won its last four, so momentum is on its side. Jack Walsh recorded a hat trick last weekend and has 10 goals on the season. If he can turn in another solid effort, the Gusties will win at least one of these games. Gustavus Adolphus 5-3, St. Olaf 4-3
Concordia at St. Mary’s
Concordia faces the daunting task of going on the road to play two games, and a lot is riding on the weekend for the Cobbers. Concordia is 8-6 in the league and is holding onto a playoff spot at the moment. The Cobbers have played well lately, winning three in a row, and have been one of the best offensive teams in the league, having scored 70 goals. If they get on a roll offensively early, they will be tough to deal with. Jordie Bancroft has played a pivotal role in the offensive success, punching in 11 goals and dishing out 10 assists. The Cardinals, who are 6-7-1 in the conference, have had a tough time down the stretch, winning only one of their last six, and they probably have to win both games to earn a playoff berth. St. Mary’s will need to revive its offense if it’s going to win this weekend. The Cardinals have been blanked twice during their rough stretch, and that will have to change if they want to beat the Cobbers. Mike Hill has had a stellar season, scoring 17 goals and tallying 11 assists, and if he can come up big, the Cardinals have a chance to salvage their season. St. Mary’s 3-2, Concordia 6-3