MIAC Season Preview

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference seems to be separated into three tiers of teams. In the first tier is Bethel and St. Thomas, the second consists of Augsburg, St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus, and St. John’s, and the third includes St. Mary’s, Concordia-Moorhead, and Hamline.

Now, this breakdown of the MIAC might seem obvious since it was the way the teams finished last season. However, both Bethel and St. Thomas have not taken any steps down to the lower tier, instead they have both improved. The second tier teams don’t seem to have the weapons to compete with the two powerhouses, and the lower tier teams are still struggling to fix major issues such as penalties, goaltending, and recruiting.

The teams are organized below by predicted order of finish.

St. Thomas Tommies

Coach: Terry Skrypek, 21st season at St. Thomas (372-165-36)
2006-2007 overall record: 17-10-0
2006-2007 MIAC record: 12-4-0
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Second
2007-2008 predicted finish: First

St. Thomas graduated several all-conference talent, however the Tommies are also returning several all-conference players. Nick Pernula returns off a 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) performance last season in 42 games.

St. Thomas restocked its depth chart with ten new players this season. Sophomore goaltender Tyler Chestnutt, a transfer from Holy Cross, will challenge junior Cameron Voss for the netminding position. Junior defenseman Adam Davis, a transfer from Minnesota-Duluth, will give the Tommies experience at the blue line.

St. Thomas has more depth than any other team in the conference, as each position is solid from top to bottom. The Tommies could possibly only see two or three losses in the MIAC this season.

Bethel Royals

Coach: Joel Johnson, first season at Bethel (2-0-0)
2006-2007 overall record: 18-10-1
2006-2007 MIAC record: 12-3-1
2006-2007 MIAC finish: First
2007-2008 predicted finish: Second

Bethel was a bit of a surprise last season as they finished with the best record in the conference. This season the Royals should remain a force in the MIAC despite having young scorers. One major obstacle in Bethel’s path is trying to fill the holes that graduation left. With 12 veterans missing from last season’s team the Royals will need to find young players who can pick up the slack.

Incoming forwards Christian Fogerty, Lukas Jorgensen, Tom Menozzi, and Ian Vanbiesbrouck need to be key players if Bethel wants to continue its success from last season.

Seniors Dan Bonne and Jeff Balvin will need to provide leadership to the young crew of forwards. The Royals have an experienced defensive unit returning from last season that allowed the fewest goals per game (2.83) in the conference. Sophomore Aaron Damjanovich, who led the MIAC in goals against average, save percentage, and winning percentage, is the anchor of the Bethel squad.

The Royals were the top pick in the MIAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll and ranked 15th in the USCHO.com Preseason Poll. Clearly, the expectations are very high for Bethel and with such young forwards it will be interesting to see how first year coach Joel Johnson handles the pressure his team faces.

Gustavus Adolphus Golden Gusties

Coach: Brett Petersen, eighth season at Gustavus (83-87-15)
2006-2007 overall record: 11-13-2
2006-2007 MIAC record: 9-6-1
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Fifth
2007-2008 predicted finish: Third

Gustavus lost three of its top four scorers to graduation but retains its top scorer from last season, Eric Bigham. The main concern for the Gusties this season should be goaltending. All three sophomore netminders from last year’s squad left the team and coach Brett Petersen brought in two first-year players and a junior transfer to fill the void. This could be the factor that makes or breaks the Gusties’ season.

Gustavus added six first-year skaters to its roster with three forwards and three defensemen. These newcomers will see minimal playing time with so many veterans on the team.

The Gustie defensemen do not have much size, as the tallest is 6’1”, however two of the goaltenders are listed at 6’3” and 6’4”. Without the ability to clear the traffic in front of the net the goaltenders must be able to handle added pressure. It will be interesting to see what kind of netminding the Gusties have.

St. John’s Johnnies

Coach: John Harrington, 15th season with St. John’s (229-131-29)
2006-2007 overall record: 9-14-2
2006-2007 MIAC record: 6-9-1
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Sixth
2007-2008 predicted finish: Fourth

St. John’s had its first losing season (9-14-2) last year since 1994-95. The good news is that they lost only six players to graduation and will have a lot of experience returning to the lineup this season. Senior Pat Eagles will be the leader of this year’s squad and will be expected to boost the offense that the Johnnies lacked last season.

Junior goaltender Vince Wheeler will be back between the pipes as the team’s top goalie this season. Wheeler posted respectable numbers last year with a save percentage of .890 while surrendering 2.89 goals against per game.

It will be up to this season’s junior class to take what they learned from their hardships last year and show improvement. Two important members of that group are forward Joel Stacklie and defenseman Clayton Rehm. Last season Stacklie recorded eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) in 19 games and Rehm notched seven points (7 assists) in 18 games.

If St. John’s is to rebound from last season’s disappointment it will need to increase its goals per game — 2.81 — which ranked seventh in the MIAC.

Augsburg Auggies

Coach: Chris Brown, second season at Augsburg (12-12-4)
2006-2007 overall record: 12-10-4
2006-2007 MIAC record: 9-3-4
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Third
2007-2008 predicted finish: Fifth

Augsburg will be looking at the 2007-2008 season as a reloading year. After losing players like Aaron Johnson, last season’s top scorer, Critter Nagurski, Greg May, A.J. Hau, and Chad Georgell, the Auggies need to find returners to fill their skates.

Augsburg has several players who will be expected to fill the void left by graduation. Defensemen Dan Leopold and Ben Bradbury will be the leaders on an experienced blue line. Sophomore Chris Johnson is the top scorer returning from last year’s squad with 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists). Junior Brett Way and Senior Danny Carlson will be big factors in the Auggie offense.

Andy Kent was one of the top netminders in the MIAC last season and should continue his solid play into this season. Kent compiled a record of 10-8-4 last season and was an All-MIAC selection. Senior Michael Henrichsen and junior Adam Hendel give Augsburg a lot of depth between the pipes.

The Auggies come into the 2007-08 season with nine first-year players on the roster. Defenseman Ben Roberts, and forwards Joel Sauer, Jim Jensen, Gerrit Hooker, and Cory Ellertson are the top newcomers to the program.

This season Augsburg may take a step back but it would be hard not to with the firepower they lost. However, the Auggies should still be competitive this season in the conference and will be a force in a couple years with its current first-year players.

St. Olaf Oles

Coach: Sean Goldsworthy, 11th season at St. Olaf (99-133-28)
2006-2007 overall record: 11-14-2
2006-2007 MIAC record: 9-5-2
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Fourth
2007-2008 predicted finish: Sixth

St. Olaf is anchored by its blue line unit, which is led by All-American John Paulson. Paulson led the Oles in goals last season with eight in 25 games. Junior Dylan Mueller led the team in scoring last year with 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games. Mueller has led the Oles in scoring in each of the last two seasons.

In goal, St. Olaf has a void to fill after Jeff Wilde graduated last season. Junior Jake Busch and sophomore Brycen Eberwein will compete for the starting job in net.

St. Mary’s Cardinals

Coach: Don Olson, 31st season at St. Mary’s (366-386-40)
2006-2007 overall record: 7-17-1
2006-2007 MIAC record: 4-11-1
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Seventh
2007-2008 predicted finish: Seventh

St. Mary’s recorded its third straight losing season last year with a 7-17-1 record. This was due, in part, to a high amount of penalty minutes (19.3 per game) and the worst power play unit in the conference.

Senior Dan Smith will be the Cardinals’ go-to-guy in the net this season. Last year Smith ranked third in the MIAC with a .904 save percentage along with a respectable 3.17 goals against average. Smith will give St. Mary’s consistency at the goaltending position while it must find answers at the other positions.

The Cardinals have experience on their side with six seniors on the roster and only two first-year players. Seniors Jesse Polk and Adam Gill are the Cardinals’ top scorers. In 25 games last season Gill posted 22 points (13 goals, 9 assists), while Polk racked up 15 points (10 goals, 5 assists) in the same number of games.

If St. Mary’s is going to improve on last season’s seventh place finish it needs to find scorers in its sophomore and junior classes. Without any new veterans stepping up and showing improvement the Cardinals will remain at the bottom of the MIAC pile.

Concordia Cobbers

Coach: Steve Baumgartner, 22nd season at Concordia (231-295-32)
2006-2007 overall record: 7-18-0
2006-2007 MIAC record: 3-13-0
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Eighth
2007-2008 predicted finish: Eighth

The Concordia Cobbers have not had a winning season since 2002-03 when they had a 13-11-2 record. It is difficult to find something positive for this program to head into the 2007-08 season. However, optimism could be just around the corner if the Cobbers can fix a few areas.

Concordia ranked last in the conference in penalty kill with a 69.4 percent success rate and ranked first in penalty minutes with 22.4 per game. The Cobbers must play more disciplined, smart hockey. It does not bode well for hockey teams when they have a bad penalty kill and they take a lot of penalties.

The goaltending position must find some consistency and reliability. Junior Jeremy Boniface saw the majority of time in the net last season and ranked near the bottom among MIAC starting netminders in every major category. If the Cobbers are going to have any success it starts with solid goaltending.

Hamline Pipers

Coach: Scott Bell, third season at Hamline (11-38-3)
2006-2007 overall record: 7-18-0
2006-2007 MIAC record: 3-13-0
2006-2007 MIAC finish: Eighth
2007-2008 predicted finish: Ninth

Hamline is a young team with no senior leadership and seven juniors on the roster. Goaltending is also an issue as the Pipers’ Matt Wanvig finished last season in last place among conference starting goaltenders in goals against average and save percentage. There are plenty of holes in the Hamline depth chart and it is hard to see the Pipers improving from last year without the veteran experience.