MCHA league play kicked off last weekend and two game sweeps were the top order of business. While Northland was idle, Adrian made its MCHA debut with a home sweep of Lawrence, while MSOE accomplished the same over Crookston.
Concordiaâ€™s opening weekend wasnâ€™t quite as successful as they dropped two at home to Finlandia. Marian also was in action but the Sabres were unable to come away with a win in a two game home set against MIAC foe Bethel.
Meanwhile, the NCHA asserted itself in a full slate of MIAC Interlock games, finishing the weekend with an impressive 10-2-4 record. Stout, St. Norbert, and Stevens Point all went 2-0, while St. Scholastica and River Falls were close behind with 1-0-1 marks. Eau Claire and Lake Forest skated to weekend splits and Superior didnâ€™t lose, but didnâ€™t win either, going 0-0-2.
With the Interlock half completed, the strong weekend gives the NCHA an 18-9-5 record against the MIAC thus far. With MIAC and NCHA league action beginning this weekend, the Interlock will be on hold until January.
Over the past few seasons, Finlandia forward Josh Paquette has been one of the most prolific scorers in the MCHA. Paquette, a 6â€™0â€ 185 pound senior from Marquette, MI, has scored over 30 points in all three of his seasons and led the MCHA with 39 of his 46 points coming in league action alone a year ago.
Paquette added to his rÃ©sumÃ© in Fridayâ€™s 9-2 win over Concordia-WI by registering a first period assist to pass former Marian forward Dan Odegard and become the all-time MCHA leading scorer. After finishing the game with three helpers, Paquetteâ€™s career MCHA line reads 39-63-102.
â€œHeâ€™s very talented, and I hate to quote things this way, but heâ€™s very team oriented, he really isâ€ said Finlandia head coach Joe Burcar. â€œHeâ€™d thank his teammates right away. Heâ€™s the complete package in terms of a team player.
With almost an entire season to go, Paquette figures to increase the record by a healthy amount and is also nearing the MCHA career assist record of 66 currently held former MSOE forward Brian Soik.
â€œItâ€™s an incredible record for a great all-around team player. We hope it can stand for some time,â€ said Burcar.
Swinging over to the NCHA and taking a look behind the bench, the weekend approaches with St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin only one victory away from earning his 300th career coaching victory. Coghlinâ€™s career coaching mark currently stands at 299-92-31.
It has taken Coghlin only a little over 14 seasons to close in on win 300, all of which have come at St. Norbert.
Prior to taking over the Green Knights in 1993, Coghlin was a player and assistant coach at Stevens Point, which adds an interesting wrinkle to the weekend as the Green Knights hit the road Friday to take on none other than the Pointers. If the win doesnâ€™t come on Friday the Green Knights will get another chance as they meet Eau Claire at the Resch Center in Green Bay on Saturday.
The Green Knights history of success suggests win 300 will come this weekend as only twice in the past two seasons has St. Norbert gone winless over a weekend. Interestingly, one of them was in late November of 2005 as they lost at Stevens Point and tied at Eau Claire.
More First Impressions
I know that last week I promised we would feature Adrian, Concordia-WI and Eau Claire this week, but I changed my mind. As the MCHA teams are both brand new, I decided to give them a week to gauge themselves. That swings us over to the NCHA and a very popular sleeper pick in Eau Claire.
Despite finishing tied for sixth in the league last season, the Blugolds are a team no one really enjoyed playing, as though they might not have excelled in the win column, they exceeded many expectations in terms of their actual play.
Eau Claire is off to a 3-2 start under first year head coach Matt Loen, with impressive victories over St. Scholastica, St. Johnâ€™s and St. Maryâ€™s. The two losses both came by a single goal to Concordia-MN and St. Johnâ€™s.
Thus far, Loen has been relatively pleased with what he has seen.
â€œI think weâ€™re very comparable to last season,â€ he said. Weâ€™re making strides in the right direction. I think itâ€™s been a little easier for me stepping in here having been a player here and having spent the last two years here as a coach. I think it helps that the players are familiar with me and know what to expect.â€
A problem that plagued the Blugolds down the stretch last season was an inability to win close games. It is most highly illustrated by a seven game stretch late in the season that included one win, two ties and four one goal losses.
Eau Claire looks to have shaken that habit early this season by downing St. Johnâ€™s 1-0 and rallying from two goals down to drop St. Maryâ€™s, 6-4. Although the Blugolds have also dropped a pair of one goal games, Loen feels the growing experience of his team is slowly paying off.
â€œA few bounces here or there can change things, hopefully in a positive direction,â€ he said. â€œA lot of that goes to experience. This group has a lot of experience with [close games].â€
Somewhat as expected, senior forward Sean Garrity has paced the Blugold attack by registering seven points in four games. Juniors Andrew Johnson and Dan Fina follow with five and four points, respectively.
Still, Loen has been a little surprised with an offense that was hoping to improve after being the second lowest scoring in the NCHA a year ago. The Blugolds only mustered two goals on opening weekend, though they did roll up 10 the following week, good for a three goal per game average.
â€œI thought weâ€™d be able to score some goals,â€ he said. â€œI really thought we could put up some more numbers, especially in our first two games. We did get a win but we only scored twice.â€
One pleasant surprise has been the play of sophomore netminder Tyler Brigl. The Blugolds entered the season with some questions in net following the departure of last seasonâ€™s workhorse Ryan Mensing, but Brigl has been up to the challenge, despite his limited experience.
â€œOur number one pleasant surprise has been Tyler Brigl,â€ said Loen. â€œFor a young guy like Tyler to step in and grab the number one position like that without a lot of experience has been a great surprise.â€
Brigl has played every minute in goal for the Blugolds this season and has allowed 2.81 goals per game while posting a .986 save percentage.
Though itâ€™s been an encouraging start for the Blugolds, Loen says all the emphasis is on this weekend, where they will take on Lake Forest at home on Friday before traveling to St. Norbert on Saturday for a neutral-site game at the Resch Center.
â€œOur focus right now is our next game, Lake Forest. We have to get that first (league) win under our belts. All weâ€™ve been talking about is Lake Forest on Friday.â€
Once the word on Adrian started to slip out this off-season, MCHA fans looked at prospective meetings with Finlandia and MSOE with much intrigue.
One of them is upon us.
In only its second week of MCHA play ever, Adrian hits the road to take on Finlandia, the defending MCHA Harris Cup Champion, in a two game conference tilt.
Though the two teams have never played, word is the coaches have already decided to create a traveling trophy for the series. Tentatively dubbed the â€œMackinaw Bridge Cup,â€ the trophy commemorates the nearly 10 hour trip one must make to play the other.
The moniker stems from the fact that when traveling to a series, one team must travel across the Mackinaw Bridge which connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. Itâ€™s the only trip of its kind in Division III. At least unofficially, the travels of the Cup begin now.
Speaking of 10 hour trips, thatâ€™s exactly what Adrian has to make this week, though head coach Ron Fogarty hopes it will not have negative effects.
â€œWe had delays heading out to Neumann. It shouldnâ€™t be a factor as we are leaving a day early. Then we can get a good skate in on Friday and should be ready to go. Besides, where a lot of our players come from they are used to long trips like this.â€
Adding to the intrigue is that neither team really knows what is in store for them this weekend.
â€œYou know, no, we really donâ€™t know what to expect,â€ said Finlandia head coach Joe Burcar. â€œBut you can look at their recruiting class and itâ€™s a great class.â€
He continued, â€œYou can look at their box scores and see they are scoring five to six goals per game and have been absolutely great on the power play. Never having played them before, thatâ€™s about the limitations on what we know about them though.â€
Similarly, Fogarty has a rough idea of what lays in wait, but wasnâ€™t overly rapt with details.
â€œI think they are big on defense,â€ he said. â€œThey are a strong physical team with a lot of firepower up front. With Paquette, and Mike Parks and Ryan Sullivan, those are guys we are going to have to pay particular attention to.â€
Itâ€™s been said experience and treachery wins out over youth and enthusiasm, and this series will no doubt test the merits of such a claim. Finlandia will take the ice this weekend with 16 upperclassmen, while the Bulldogs will counter with 24 freshman, two sophomores and a junior.
One thing everyone does know about the match up is that both teams can put the puck in the net. Finlandia scoring prowess has been well-documented here as, led by Paquette, it led the MCHA with over five goals per game last season and racked up 14 in its opening weekend sweep of Concordia-WI.
Meanwhile, Adrianâ€™s top line of Shawn Skelly, Adam Krug and Eric Miller has already accounted for 37 points in just six games. Overall, Adrian has scored just shy of six goals per game.
An aspect of this match up that may weigh in Finlandiaâ€™s favor is a bit of an unconventional style that is both extremely up-tempo yet physical at the same time.
â€œI think with our style the physical presence is important. We have some guys who love to hit and play that aspect. I think we are at our best when we are out there playing the body,â€ said Burcar.
Though Finlandia is one of the elite teams in the league, its play last weekend leaves Burcar a little worried headed into this weekendâ€™s showdown.
â€œOur transition game was a strength for us last year,â€ he said. â€œEven though we won, last weekend was a good test for us. Concordia came out and played us extremely hard and we made a lot of mistakes. This week weâ€™ve really been focusing on the defensive as I think we can do a much better job on that side of things.â€
Burcar also expressed concerns about an Adrian power play that has clicked at 36.3 percent this season.
â€œWe donâ€™t want to put them on the power play — plain and simple,â€ he said. â€œThey are extremely talented and arenâ€™t a team you want to give too many opportunities to.â€
Time spent with an extra man certainly isnâ€™t going to hurt Adrian, but what might be more beneficial on a consistent basis this weekend for the Bulldogs is the ability to jump out to an early lead on Friday — something they have done in all three series this season.
â€œI think what weâ€™ve seen in our other series is that we come out strong and other teams donâ€™t know what to expect,â€ said Fogarty. â€œCome out and commit four low and attack and its worked well. We hope we can surprise them, but I donâ€™t know how much weâ€™ll be able to do so as they will be extremely well-prepared for us.â€
There are some aspects of Adrianâ€™s play over the first three weeks that have Fogarty concerned, however, especially against a team as talented as Finlandia.
â€œThe penalties again,â€ he said. â€œFinlandia has a very good power play and our guys are still adjusting to the college rules from the junior ones. I think weâ€™ve got that ironed out now and weâ€™ll see our penalties come down.â€
This series should certainly prove to be a fansâ€™ delight, ripe with plenty of firepower, some physical play and the complete unknown of what to expect. Heading into the season this is one of the match ups onlookers pointed to as it will be a superb early season look at where Adrian might stack up in the MCHA. As itâ€™s the only meeting between the two during the regular season, it is the only chance anyone will have to compare the two teams until the playoffs at earliest.
With a little luck, come Saturday night we may have a pretty good look at how the MCHA might align itself this season.