Five Survivors on the Island
For the first time all year the MIAC has a new conference leader. St. Thomas, by virtue of its sweep over St. Olaf, leapfrogged Concordia and sits alone on top. After the dust settled last weekend there were five survivors left on the island, with only four allowed to stay for the playoffs. Three teams have legitimate shots at the crown, and with two weekends left in the season, the playoff possibilities are endless.
The Tommies are on a serious roll, having won their last seven games. They have one series left, a weekend showdown with third-place Bethel. Concordia has split its last four series, and for the first time all year has to place its title hopes in the hands of another team. Bethel tuned up for this weekend’s main event by pasting Lawrence. All three of these teams could win the MIAC, or not make the playoffs. Augsburg and St. John’s have positioned themselves to make one last assault at the final four. Although they are not mathematically eliminated from winning the title, their chances are about the same as being able to wear shorts and catch a suntan by one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes next weekend.
Another year, another photo finish in the MIAC.
The Tribal Leaders
St. Thomas (9-3-2, 12-8-3)
St. Thomas has won seven straight, and can win its fourth straight title by sweeping Bethel this weekend. Last weekend they pulled off a two-game sweep over St. Olaf by identical scores of 5-2. The Oles shut down the league’s hottest player in Tony Lawrence, limiting him to two assists in the series, but forgot about the rest of the team as eight different players scored for the Tommies. On Friday night St. Olaf took a 2-1 lead after one period, but St. Thomas’ goalie Brad Moore shut the door the rest of the way and the offense scored four straight over the last two periods to clinch the win. Five different players scored goals for a suddenly balanced attack. On Saturday the power play unit took control and scored three goals on nine attempts. Mike McMahon and Jake Searles scored for the Tommies to make them the only multiple goal scorers for the weekend. St. Thomas out shot St. Olaf 60-18 for the game and 107-40 on the weekend. Moore continues to be the steadying influence in the net, he is now second in the league in goals against. Lawrence, although shut down in this series, is fourth in the nation in goals scored with 22.
Bethel (8-3-1, 10-10-1)
Bethel is sailing through uncharted waters. They are two series away from winning their first MIAC title and participating in their first-ever MIAC playoffs. So close, yet they could still lose all four and finish fifth. The two series in question are white-knucklers against first place St. Thomas and fourth place Augsburg. If they win all four, they win the title outright and will host a first round playoff series. Any other win-loss combination will take a Constitution-like explanation to detail all the playoff possibilities. The Royals played a non-conference tune up with Lawrence and won going away 8-1. Mike Marshall chalked up two goals and an assist as he continues to pace the Bethel offense. He now has 20 goals and 12 assists on the year, and is second in the MIAC in points and goals behind St. Thomas gunslinger Tony Lawrence. Saturday’s game was over after the first period as the Royals scored three first period goals and eight straight to win their tenth game of the year. Bethel used two goalies in the game, Jeff Hall and Bjorn Hawes, they held Lawrence to one goal on 24 shots. The mainstay in the net for Bethel on their rise to the top has been Steve Witkowski who possesses a 6-0-1 record in the MIAC, and will more than likely get the start in the series with St. Thomas.
Concordia (9-4-1, 11-8-2)
Q: What do the players on the Concordia hockey team and members of the Pro Bowlers Tour have in common?
A: They both hate splits.
Concordia has watched a comfortable three-game lead evaporate over the course of January, and are now in second place for the first time all year. This whole turn of events is courtesy of four straight series splits. The split last weekend with Gustavus was the hardest one to swallow. After splitting three series with three top-four teams in the MIAC, the Cobbers figured to be set for a shot at their first title since the 1986-87 season. They had two series left, both at home, with the bottom two teams in the conference. Then Gustavus rolled into town and left Concordia to ponder all the missed opportunities. The stake-through-the heart was jammed in on Friday night. The Cobbers came out and looked as if they were going to make the home-ice advantage hold up. They scored first when Tony Castaneda finished off a tic-tac-toe odd-man rush play and the Gusties were on their heels. Then the roof fell in. Gustavus rallied to score two minutes later and take momentum into the break. Then they came out and scored two seeing-eye goals in the middle period and left Concordia shocked. Concordia could not put the puck in the net in the critical third period and lost 4-2. The third period continues to haunt Concordia. In the crucial four losses in the last four series, Concordia has been behind after two periods three times and lost every single game. In the other loss, the Cobbers were tied after two and lost the game in the third. In Saturday’s game Concordia bolted to a 4-0 lead before Gustavus scored two straight to make the finish a whole lot closer. Concordia has the weekend off and will play two midweek games at home against local rival UM-Crookston.
Augsburg (7-4-1, 10-8-2)
Augsburg might be one of the scariest teams in the MIAC right now. They hold the one trump card in their hand that every playoff team needs; a hot goalie. Ryan McIntosh is returning to his first year form when he won All-American honors and led Augsburg to a conference title. Against St. Mary’s this past weekend he stopped 93 of the 96 shots he faced. That included a stretch on Saturday when he had turned back 51 straight shots. For his efforts he was named the USCHO Division III Defensive Player of the Week. He has helped the Auggies win four straight and five of the last six. He is allowing the offense to take more risks and score more goals, one of the aspects that hurt them earlier this year. On Friday night Augsburg used four goals in the second period to put the game out of reach and win 7-2. Mike Jackson was the thriller for the offense, as he recorded his first career hat trick. On Saturday St. Mary’s held the advantage in every statistical category except for the one that counts, goals. The Cardinals had as many shots in the second period as Augsburg did all game. The Auggies played their McIntosh-ace and held St. Mary’s to 1 goal on 55 shots. Augsburg’s offense made the most of their chances and scored 4 goals on 23 shots. Four different players scored for Augsburg. Augsburg has two series remaining; St. Olaf and Bethel. They could finish as high as first or a low as fifth.
St. John’s (7-4-1, 10-10-1)
Like the rest of the teams fighting for the title belt, St. John’s is on a hot streak. They have won five of their last six games and, besides Concordia, have the easiest schedule remaining. They finish with series against St. Mary’s and St. Olaf, and this weekend’s affair with the Cardinals is a rare two-game home stand. One of the key factors in the last six games for the Johnnies has been the goaltending of Rick Gregory. After splitting the first three series in the MIAC with teammate Adam Laaksonen, Gregory has been given the starting job and has flourished. He is currently tied for second in the conference in goals against and has come up with several timely saves. Last weekend the Johnnies swept Hamline 6-3 and 3-1. Mike Possin and Kevin Willey were the offensive stars for the weekend. The dynamic duo accounted for six of the nine goals, and added four assists. On Friday night the two teams combined for 82 shots as the teams played their best NHL All-Star game defense. The Johnnies never trailed in the game, and the six goals was the second most they have scored all season. On Saturday the teams slowed down to take only 73 shots but this time St. John’s had to overcome a 1-0 deficit. The Possin/Willey show scored the all three goals for the Johnnies.
No Longer On The Island
Gustavus (3-7-2, 6-12-3)
Gustavus played one of their best series of the year. They gained a split over Concordia, and dropped the Cobbers out of first place. The Gusties showed a renewed spirit to push players into attack, and came away with the most goals they’ve scored in a MIAC series all year. On Friday night they added some luck to their new-look offensive push and came away with a 4-2 victory. Gustavus used a two-goal second period to put the pressure on the Cobbers. After going into the first break tied at one, the Gusties scored two even strength goals on shots from the high slot that were redirected by the pile of players in front of the Concordia net. Defenseman Ben Puder continued his offensive hot streak by scoring his third goal in two games. Aaron Allar followed suit seven minutes later by scoring his eighth goal of the year. The game turned interesting in the third period when Concordia cut the lead to one before Tom Awaijane scored a pure hustle goal when the Gusties were shorthanded. He was able to cut off the passing lane that Concordia goalie Bryan Howard was trying to push the puck into, and corralled the puck behind the net before scoring on a wraparound. First year goaltender Dan Melde made key saves down the stretch to preserve the upset win. Saturday started on the same high note when Jared Klava scored 30 seconds into the game. Unfortunately Concordia scored four straight and Gustavus had to settle for coming within one in a 4-3 loss. The loss ruined the Gusties slim playoff hopes and, by the narrowest of margins, were sent packing from the island. Gustavus has two series remaining, they play Hamline this weekend and finish with St. Mary’s.
St. Olaf (3-8-1, 7-13-1)
St. Olaf holds the dubious distinction of wearing the spoiler hat the rest of the way. They will influence the MIAC playoff picture more than any other team that is no longer on the island.
They play the two teams tied for fourth, Augsburg and St. John’s. The MIAC schedule makers loaded the back end of the Oles schedule with top-flight teams. In addition to the final two tough series, St. Olaf had to face red-hot St. Thomas last weekend. They came away with identical 5-2 losses. The series played to the script of the past several games for St. Olaf. Tough play, unable to score at the right time and conceding multiple power-play goals. On Friday night the Oles took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission on goals by Nick Hanson and Nate Olsen, but then came out in the second period and let the Tommies score two goals in a span of 1:03 to take the lead and regain their confidence. St. Olaf was able to shut down the league’s top player in Tony Lawrence
but couldn’t fight back in the critical middle period. On Saturday the Oles gave St. Thomas nine power play chances and paid dearly. After St. Olaf tied the score on a power-play goal of their own from Jason Haider, St. Thomas reeled off three straight power-play goals in the next ten minutes and pushed the Oles right off the island.
St. Mary’s (2-7-3, 7-11-3)
St. Mary’s is in the process of finding out the difference between winning in November and turning the same trick in February. After finding ways to score goals in the first month and bolting from the gate with five league points in the first four games, the Cardinals have only two points since. They are creating scoring opportunities and getting plenty of shots on net, but they can’t get the goal that puts them over the top. Case in point; last weekends series against Augsburg. They out shot the Auggies in both games and five of the six periods. They allowed only one power-play goal on nine attempts over the weekend. But unfortunately moral victories only help in June, and they lost both games. The main villain for St. Mary’s over the series was Augsburg goalie Ryan McIntosh. St. Mary’s pumped 96 shots on the senior but could only come away with three goals. In Friday’s game the teams skated to a 1-1 tie after one with Jason Phillip scoring the lone goal for St. Mary’s. The second period started and Augsburg scored three goals in the first eight minutes to open the game up and McIntosh shut the door the rest of the way. Phillip added his second power-play goal and the losing skid hit eight. On Saturday St. Mary’s had 51 shots on McIntosh before Phillip scored his third goal of the weekend. Unfortunately it was too late as Augsburg was up 4-0 at the time. St. Mary’s totaled a MIAC season-high 56 shots for the game, the losing streak was at nine and Ryan McIntosh had personally escorted St. Mary’s off the island. St. Mary’s will play out the season with series against St. John’s and Gustavus.
Hamline (2-9-0, 9-11-0)
Hamline provides the proof that the MIAC is a league that is on the rise and that there are no more easy four-point weekends. They have nine wins on the season, one of the highest totals in school history, and have a chance to record their first winning season since the 1983-84 season.
In their last four league games they have not lost by more than three goals and have had a lead in two of the games. The two Achilles heals this season have been allowing goals to come in bunches and the lack of a consistent goaltender. Last weekend was a testament to the former, as St. John’s had multiple goal runs in both games to sweep the series 6-3 and 3-1. On Friday Hamline allowed the Johnnies to score back-to-back goals three times in the game. Aaron Welle scored twice in the 6-3 loss, and Hamline had 39 shots on St. John’s goalie Rick Gregory. In the series finale Hamline scored first when Troy Urdahl finished off a feed from Tim Steffen. The teams battled through the next two periods and although St. John’s won 3-1, with an empty net goal, the game hung in the balance all the way to the end. Hamline ends the season with two-game tilts against Gustavus and Concordia. The Pipers have a chance to go out with a winning record and carry momentum into next year’s survivor series.
Series of the Week: St. Thomas vs. Bethel
A no-brainer. Age and experience versus youth and exuberance. The richest, best-looking kid on the block that has the best equipment against the blue collar, rugged kid that has had to scrape for everything he’s got. The Detroit Red Wings against the Minnesota Wild. You get the picture. St. Thomas has eight seniors on their roster while Bethel only has two. This is the last series for the Tommies, and a sweep means they win their 11th MIAC championship in 13 seasons. A split and they have to play the waiting game. If they win and tie, they are assured of at least a tie for the title. If Bethel sweeps this series and their final series against Augsburg, they win their first MIAC title. If they split and lose two to Augsburg, they could miss the playoffs altogether.