Haven’t I Seen You Here Before?
The MIAC has crowned a champion, and the king has a familiar look.
St. Thomas swept Bethel, and kept their hold on the throne for the fourth straight year and 11th time in 13 seasons. The Tommies have won nine games in a row, and enter the MIAC playoffs as the runaway favorite to secure the automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA playoffs. To make matters worse for the rest of the league, St. Thomas will have a bye this weekend, and will be able to get much needed rest for their aches and pains.
The final drama in the league will be for the other three spots. Concordia has clinched the second spot in the postseason, but could finish anywhere from second to fourth. They play host to resurgent Hamline this weekend. St. John’s, Bethel and Augsburg are playing a season-ending game of musical chairs, three teams for only two spots. The Johnnies are in third place with 18 points and an 8-4-2 record. They play St. Olaf this weekend. The Royals and Auggies have identical 8-5-1 marks and have the ability to knock each other out, as they go head-to-head in the season finale. This series could be a “winner take all” scenario. If Concordia and St. John’s sweep their series, the team that wins the series will keep playing, while the loser will stay home and watch the MIAC postseason party.
If the two teams split and end up tied for the fourth and fifth spots, then it becomes a total goals series. The second tiebreaker in the MIAC is total goals for and against in competition with tied teams. This could prove to make Saturday’s game at Augsburg one of the games of the season.
Here is a recap of the last weekend’s action in the MIAC. There was a champion crowned, a step into playoff contention, a revenge-filled split and a complete surprise.
St. Thomas, like the veteran fighter who waits until the late rounds to start fighting, delivered a knockout blow and regained the heavyweight crown of the MIAC. It has become a yearly ritual, and this time the only thing that changed was the upstart contender. Bethel was this year’s fodder and, like the teams that came before, they were swept out of the way and forced to fight for second best.
On Friday night the Tommies were knocked down early when Bethel’s Josh Hauge scored two minutes into the game. St. Thomas quickly recovered to tie the game two minutes later when Eric Wenkus took a pass from Tony Lawrence and beat Royal goalie Steve Witkowski. The two teams traded blows until eight minutes into the second period when Brad Bonine scored his first of two goals. St. Thomas, playing ahead for the first time all game, protected the lead and let goaltender Brad Moore shut Bethel down. Neither team could get on the board in the third period and Bethel was forced to pull Witkowski in favor of an extra attacker. Bonine took advantage of the open net and put away his second of the game and sealed the win. St. Thomas held a 42-28 shot advantage in the game.
Saturday’s game was a more wide-open affair with the teams combining for 11 goals, 7 on the power play, and 24 penalties. The power play units were the stars of the game, as they scored on seven of the ten attempts in the game. Bethel came out and struck first again, but this time kept they kept up the attack all the way through the period. After the first period the Royals had a 3-2 lead, and all five goals were scored on man advantage situations. St. Thomas outscored Bethel 2-1 in the second period to even the game at four and set up a dramatic finish. The Tommies tried to run and hide early in the third when Mike McMahon scored a rare even strength goal at 3:17. One penalty would alter the course off the game the rest of the way. Bethel drew even when Chad Anderson scored an unassisted shorthanded goal at 8:50 during a five-minute major penalty. During the same power play, with only eight seconds left in the man advantage, Tony Lawrence stepped up and scored the game-winner to deliver the TKO. Lawrence scored his team-leading 21st goal of the year, and St. Thomas held the lead they would take until the end of the game. Moore finished with 19 saves in the game while Witkowski for Bethel had 37.
St. John’s entered the weekend hovering in fourth place, and needed a strong showing to set themselves up for a run at the playoffs. Mission accomplished. The Johnnies had a rare home series with St. Mary’s. Usually the teams play a home and home series but the Cardinals were forced to play both games at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. The first game turned out to be a rout but started as a close checking affair. After one period the score was tied, and even the shots on goal margin close at 10-9. That’s when the road to victory turned into the highway of despair for St. Mary’s. St. John’s rattled off three goals in the second and three straight in the third before the Cardinals could finally stop the bleeding and score a feel-good goal to make the final score 7-2. Six different players scored for St. John’s during the barrage, and all but one were even strength goals. St. Mary’s even tried two different goalies in the game, as Dan Byron went the first 40 minutes and Eric Richardson came in to douse the flames, but neither provided relief for the inferno. Rick Gregory made 31 routine saves to collect his fifth straight victory.
The second game figured to be more of the same. St. John’s was scrapping for position in the playoffs and St. Mary’s hadn’t won since they started recounting ballots in Florida. The table was set for another blowout, and St. John’s to take a step closer to clinching a berth in the MIAC tournament. The outlook didn’t look any different after the first period as the Johnnies hammered the Cardinal net, and only gave up two shots on goal for the entire 20 minutes. The only problem for St. John’s was that the game was scoreless, and St. Mary’s goalie Dan Byron was starting to get his groove on. The flow of the game continued through the second period with plenty of shots but no goals. The third period came and went and, except for a 41 second window, the game would have been over at 0-0 rather than 1-1. Brian Fisher scored at 12:26 for St. John’s, and the rout was about to start. However, the Johnnies promptly let up, and let Matt Hangge score the tying goal at 13:07. The game ended in the 1-1 draw, and St. John’s had secured three points and a one-point lead for third place in the standings.
The Revenge Factor
The saying goes that revenge is a dish best served cold. If that is the case, then Augsburg needed an extra layer of blankets to serve their helping to St. Olaf on Saturday night. Augsburg, like St. John’s, was tied for fourth place and on a four-game win streak. They had the hottest goalie in the league in Ryan McIntosh, and were primed to take a run at the top three spots in the league. They forgot about one thing, St. Olaf. The Oles welcomed Augsburg to “The Structure,” hung five goals on the Auggies playoff hopes, and walked away with a 5-4 win. The five goals given up by Augsburg are the most any MIAC team has scored on McIntosh all year. The game was close throughout as St. Olaf held a 1-0 edge after one, 3-1 after two and 5-4 at the final horn. Augsburg held a decided edge in shots at 42-28 but couldn’t come up with the timely goal. Jeff Simison had two goals in the second period to give St. Olaf a two-goal margin, but it took the solid goaltending of Jake Bullard to hold off the Auggies in the end.
The bus ride from St. Olaf to Augsburg takes 40 minutes, but the ride on Friday night must have seemed like the red-eye from LA. Using the pent-up aggression from the ride home, Augsburg scored two goals before the game was two minutes old. The rest of the game would be played in the Ole end of the rink, as Augsburg out shot St. Olaf 50-21 and outscored them 10-0. Augsburg scored five first-period goals, and was 4-for-7 on the power play for the game. Four players for the Auggies scored two goals with Nick Murray finishing as high-point man with two goals and three assists. Ryan McIntosh stopped all 21 shots and recorded his first shutout of the season.
The dish had been served and the favor returned, as St. Olaf faced the same ride home on Saturday night that Augsburg encountered on Friday.
Gustavus entered the series against Hamline coming off a huge win over then league-leading Concordia. They had a steady goaltender and a renewed spirit to attack on offense. Hamline was fulfilling their role as bottom-of-the-league tenants and were riding an eight-game losing streak. The Pipers had not won a game in the year 2001. Gustavus still had a long shot at making the playoffs. Hamline was playing out the year and looking towards the baseball season. This was one of the easiest series to handicap all year. Unfortunately, no one told Hamline they weren’t supposed to win. The Pipers finally received a steady hand in goal from two different players and scored key goals down the stretch to shock Gustavus not once, but twice.
On Friday, Hamline led for all but 53 seconds in the game and won their second overtime game of the season 4-2. They are now a perfect 2-0 in games that go to sudden death. Hamline hung around in the first period and didn’t let Gustavus bolt from the gate and win the game right away. This proved to be a huge momentum builder for the Pipers, and at 12:50 Donovan Meade scored on the power play to give Hamline even more confidence. Sam Johnson scored for the Gusties just before the break to tie the game at 1-1, but Hamline responded in the second period by scoring first at 5:17 when Jason Fleming scored to make it 2-1. Gustavus countered and the score was tied at two after two. Gustavus came out in the third and tried to shed the pesky Pipers by scoring a goal at the four-minute mark to take their only lead of the game. Hamline regrouped, and tied the game 53 seconds later on a goal by Perry Smiley. The teams skated for 16 more tapioca-like minutes in the third period and overtime, and the game took on all the trappings of a tie. Hamline finally received the break they had been looking for since before Christmas when B.J. Anderson beat Gustie goalie Dan Melde for the win. Andy Gross picked up the win in net for Hamline as he turned away 36 shots.
In the series ending game on Saturday, Hamline used their newfound luck to cash in on three unanswered goals in the second and third periods, and win 4-2. The game winner turned out to be an unassisted shorthanded beauty by Brice Parks. Once again the Pipers stayed close at the beginning of the game and gained momentum as the game wore on. Blade Metzer score two goals in the game and Hamline received a second straight solid outing in goal from sophomore goalie Robert Fuchs. Fuchs made several key saves in the second and third periods and ended the game with 31 saves.
MIAC Player of the Week
University of St. Thomas sophomore goalkeeper Brad Moore helped the Tommies win the MIAC championship with a hard-fought weekend sweep of Bethel. Moore stopped 27 of 28 shots in Friday’s 3-1 road victory that wasn’t settled until the Toms scored an empty-net goal with 30 seconds to go. In Saturday’s 6-5 win, he stopped 19 of 24 shots, although Bethel scored three power-play goals and a breakaway short-handed goal. In the Toms’ current nine-game winning streak, all MIAC victories, Moore is 9-0 with a 2.31 GAA and a.900 save percentage. The sweep of Bethel also let the Toms reach the MIAC playoffs for the 16th time in the 16-year history of the format and clinched their 19th consecutive winning season. They are 14-8-3 overall and finished the conference regular season 11-3-2.
Series of the Week
Bethel vs. Augsburg
For the second straight week Bethel will play in the marquee match up. Last week it was for the conference title with St. Thomas, this week it is for a spot in the MIAC playoffs. Both teams are tied for fourth place with identical 8-5-1 league records. The Royals could go from second place to playoff outsiders in a matter of two weeks. Augsburg is coming off a split with St. Olaf, and is trying to find consistency in their defense. They could finish as high as second or could also be on the bench in the postseason. If both Concordia and St. John’s sweep their series this weekend then whoever wins this series claims the final playoff berth. If they split, then total goals will determine the teams’ fate.