This Week in MIAC

Setting the Field

The quarterfinal matchups are set in the MIAC with Hamline hosting St. John’s and Bethel traveling to St. Thomas on Saturday. Let’s take a look at how we got here before we delve into this weekend’s match-ups.

Bethel was idle for the final week of the regular season, with St. Thomas lurking in second place, just two points back. A sweep and the Tommies would be guaranteed the title. They started off their attempt against St. Olaf on Friday. John Paulson netted his fifth goal of the year to kick starting the scoring for the Oles.

But Tom Knutson responded on the power play at the end of the frame to even it up at one. A scoreless second meant the Oles had an opportunity to open it up in the third, and they did, scoring three unanswered for the victory.

Meanwhile Dustin Fulton and Andrew Birkholz were powering Hamline past the Johnnies. The Pipers had a 1-0 lead after the first and never looked back, winning by a margin of 4-1. The win pushed Hamline past St. Thomas after their loss and in position to win the league title outright.

“After we beat St. John’s we were in the locker room and everybody kind of quieted down.” Pipers coach Scott Bell said. “First thing I said was ‘St. Olaf 4, St. Thomas 1’ and that was probably the loudest eruption we’ve had in our locker room all year.”

The other two games of the night saw Gustavus Adolphus lock up a playoff spot with a 6-1 win over the Concordia Cobbers. The Gusties went 4-for-11 on the power play in the win. Rory Dynan had three helpers in the win.

St. Mary’s needed to sweep Augsburg and see Gustavus lose two games to have a shot at the postseason. The Cardinals did their part with a 4-3 victory over the Auggies, but were eliminated by the Gustes’ win. St. Mary’s went 4-for-7 on the power play, including two goals by David Gross on the man advantage.

On Saturday, Gustavus put 42 shots on net in a 10-1 victory over the Cobbers. David Martinson led the way with 3 goals and two assists, and eight players had two or more points in the game. The win would give Gustavus a home game on Thursday if Hamline was able to knock off St. John’s.

It looked as if the Johnnies were not going to cooperate as they took a 3-0 lead out of the first period, including a shorthanded goal by Gabriel Harren with just 22 seconds remaining in the period.

“Our power play was fantastic,” Bell said of the opportunities his team received in the second period on the man advantage, including a 5-on-3 goal by Jared Hummel that cut the Johnnies lead to 4-3.

“That was only our second 5-on-3 in 25 games. Hummel’s dad said to him after the game ‘What are you doing in front on the 5-on-3 power play’ and [Hummel] said ‘Dad, I’ve been on the 5-on-3 all year in practice and we’ve just never had one in a game.’”

With the league title on the line, Dustin Fulton put in his 20th goal of the season to give the Pipers the win and the regular season title. Matt Wanvig got the victory after relieving Zachery Faust after the first period.

“It’s tremendous for our kids,” said Bell, commenting on winning the title in just his third year behind the bench.. “All the stuff we’ve been through and all the obstacles we’ve had to overcome to get here, it’s just that much more satisfying.”

As a result of the Pipers win, the best St. Thomas could do would be second place with a win over St. Olaf. The Tommies put 46 shots on net and seven different players had a goal in the 7-2 win. Tyler Chestnut got the win in net, locking up a home playoff game for the Tommies.

And in the final game for both teams, Augsburg pulled off the victory over St. Mary’s 5-4. Chris Johnson, Jim Jensen and Mario Mjelleli all had at least three points for the Auggies, which was enough to overcome a great team effort by the Cardinals. Eight players for St. Mary’s had at least one point in the game.

That guaranteed the playoff match-ups of Bethel at St. Thomas and Hamline playing the winner of Thursday’s 4-5 game between St. John’s and Gustavus Adolphus.

“Our kids are excited to be in the playoffs.” John Harrington, head coach at St. John’s said this week. “Our playoffs aren’t a back-to-back-to-back thing so we can focus on one game at a time.”

Thursday night saw the Johnnies travel to Gustavus for the right to play the Pipers. Clayton Rehm opened up the scoring for St. John’s in the first period just over five minutes into the game.

The Gusties responded with two quick goals to take a 2-1 lead. But the seesaw continued as the Johnnies got two back, including a shorthanded goal by Mike Wallgren with 1:50 left in the period to give St. John’s a 3-2 lead into the first intermission.

Gustavus Aldophus tied it back up at 16:25 of the second, but a late power play gave the Johnnies the lead again at the close of the second as Jake Hipp made it 4-3 after two periods. Four minutes and 36 seconds into the third Joel Stacklie put in the insurance goal that made the eventual final score of 5-3. The victory gives St. John’s a day off before they travel to play regular season champion Hamline.

“It gives you a chance to refocus on the next team,” Harrington said of having the extra day. “With a day off we can evaluate what we did the night before and hopefully put our best our best foot forward in the next one.”

Semifinal Round

Four teams remain in the quest for the MIAC at-large bid. One game matches the previous two conference champions, while another matches an upstart regular season champion against a team that played just two days beforehand.

The contest between Bethel and St. Thomas will be a goaltending duel as two sophomore sensations take to the crease. St. Thomas’ Tyler Chestnut (15-6-2, 2.23 goals against average, .905 save percentage) will face Bethel’s Aaron Damjanovich (16-5-2, 2.79,.918). The Tommies 25.8% power play will go up against a Bethel penalty kill that kills 83.5% of their penalties. On the flip side, Bethel’s 23.8% man advantage will face the outstanding 88.2% kill rate of the Tommies.

St. Thomas will be relying on their top seniors of Nick Pernula, Nate Ryan, and Andy Panchenko, each of whom is averaging above a point per game on the season. Bethel will counter with Jeff Balvin, Dan Bonne, Kent Bostrom, Brad Peterson and Matt Hall — all upperclassmen who have at least 30 points in 24 games played.

The question of this series becomes which offense will come out firing, and which goaltender will be up to the task. St. Thomas has a slight advantage on the special teams, which could prove to be the difference in a game that has the potential to be extremely close.

The other match-up places the regular season champion Hamline Pipers against the St. John’s Johnnies. Vince Wheeler (13-11-2, 2.88, .885) will face one of the Pipers two excellent options between the pipes, either Zachery Faust (5-3-3, 2.44 GAA, .906) or Matt Wanvig (9-2-1, 2.72 GAA, .898).

Hamline brings an impressive offense into the contest, led by junior Dustin Fulton whose 20 goals and 26 assists lead the team. Joe Long, Jared Hummel and Andrew Birkholz are among those Hamline players also above a point per game. The Johnnies send Pat Eagles, Gabriel Harren and Pat Connelly, of which only Eagles has above a point per game.

The challenge for St. John’s will be capitalizing on special teams. The Johnnies kill just 76.8 % of their penalties, while the Pipers are near the top of D-III with a 32.8 conversion rate on the man advantage. Their kill also hits above average at 81.6 percent.

The bottom line in this series is that St. John’s will have to stay out of the penalty box and keep the Pipers from getting opportunities on the man advantage that could lead to the game quickly getting out of hand. If they can stay out of the box and take advantage of even-strength opportunities, the Johnnies have a chance to pull off the upset.

The winners of these two games will meet in the championship game next Wednesday for a chance to secure the league’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament.