Get Out The Brooms
Fans of the MIAC were promised a league full of hard-fought games and parity: teams on the bottom improving against teams at the top. And they were promised a gobbled mess of league standings that would be an adventure to decipher every week.
What a difference a week makes.
The MIAC began league play last weekend not with the flurry of split series that was expected, but with four straight sweeps, providing a stark contrast between those teams at the top and bottom of the standings. Augsburg coach Chris Brown, whose Auggies were on the positive end of a series with Bethel, is as surprised as anyone.
â€œAs the season goes on, itâ€™s going to be a lot tougher to get points in this league.â€
St. Olaf coach Sean Goldsworthy agrees.
â€œThe two hardest things to do in college hockey are to win on the road and to sweep.â€
Every team that took away the four points from last weekend did indeed do so by winning at least one game away from their home ice.
The most surprising results of all may have been the Auggies, a team that had no wins in the first semester last season, taking down the Royals, a team that won the conference championship just two years ago. Brown noticed his team was a bit upbeat after getting the four points in the standings.
â€œWeâ€™re not going to ignore that fact that last year we got off to a slow start. So to get those two wins under our belt this early in the season does wonders for [playersâ€™] confidence and attitude. Yeah, it was a fun week.â€
That is not to say that the victories against teams often near the top of the conference were easy. Each contest was decided by two goals or less, and the Auggies had to survive a late charge in Fridayâ€™s game. Goaltender Andrew Kent faced 18 shots in the third period of that game and only allowed one goal with an extra attacker on the ice and 1:16 remaining in the game.
Brown was also pleased with his team getting the win on Saturday, viewing that largely as the product of an efficient offensive attack that posted its highest goal total of the season. Chris Johnson had a stellar weekend, tallying a hat trick in Saturdayâ€™s win. Brown views the blueprint from Saturday — above average nights from offensive leaders combined with effective goaltending — as the path to success this season.
The other surprise sweep was Goldsworthyâ€™s Oles taking a pair of one goal games from St. Johnâ€™s. It took three goals in rapid succession — two assisted by Olaf point leader Isak Tranvik — for the Oles to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory on Friday. That set up a low scoring dogfight on Saturday.
According to Goldsworthy, his team was prepared for the scrappy nature of the game.
â€œWe went in there knowing it was going to be a one goal game,â€ he said. â€œAs the game progressed we were able to use our depth and [we] played some extra guys.â€
Once again, St. Olaf found the grit to come from behind in the third, with Tranvik scoring the tying goal and Nick Stalock adding the game winner four and a half minutes later.
Goldsworthy had nothing but praise for the teamâ€™s points leader:
â€œIsak is a pretty complete player. On both ends of the ice heâ€™s probably our most complete forward.â€
He added that Tranvik is a player who can not only produce offensively, but can skate with opposing teamsâ€™ top lines in the defensive zone as well. He also tossed praise in the direction of Dylan Mueller.
â€œMueller has probably been our best offensive player,â€ he said. â€œI think if he were cashing in on his chances, heâ€™d be around eight or nine goals on the season.â€
With the Oles coming from behind late in games, they will be a dangerous force moving forward.
Around The League
Hamline completed the tidy sweep of Concordia on the road. The Pipers were able to do so with a balanced attack, as only Austun Tavis had more than one goal in Fridayâ€™s 9-3 victory. Beau Christian, making just his second collegiate start, earned the shutout Saturday.
Gustavus continued their early season surge, as two different goaltenders, Josh Swartout and Matthew Lopes, put up shutouts against St. Maryâ€™s last weekend.. Cody Mosbeck tallied two of Fridayâ€™s six goals.
The victory on Saturday was the 750th all-time for the Gustavus Adolphus program. In 69 seasons, the Gusties are 750-569-52, good enough for an impressive .569 winning percentage.
Augsburgâ€™s Chris Johnson earned MIAC Athlete of the Week honors for his performance over the weekend. The juniorâ€™s final weekend tally was four goals and an assist.
With the Thanksgiving holiday upcoming in the United States, this column will be off next week. So hereâ€™s a look ahead at some of the games to watch over the next two weeks.
Augsburg will look to prove they are the real deal in a series against St. Thomas this weekend. The Tommies come off the league bye, giving them two weeks to prepare for the Auggies. Coach Brown views this situation with trepidation, noting that a coach never enjoys facing such a circumstance, much less against Terry Skrypek and his St. Thomas squad.
Brown calls Skrypek â€œone of the best coaches in Division III [and] of all time,â€ and calls his team a â€œperennial power.â€
Augsburg, however, may have an opportunity to catch the Tommies. Looking ahead to the following week, St. Thomas is one of the few teams in action as they head east for the Primelink Shootout in Middlebury, Vermont.
The Tommies have a date with the host Panthers on Friday, and then will match up with either SUNYACâ€™s Plattsburgh Cardinals or ECAC Eastâ€™s Norwich Cadets on Saturday. The top teams from four leagues in one barn will make for exciting hockey.
And back in the MIAC, Gustavus Adolphus and St. Olaf will square off in a series this weekend.
Coach Goldsworthy understands the challenge his Oles face.
â€œGustavus is a very good team,â€ he said. â€œI would put them at the top of our league in talent level. They get very good touches on the puck. Offensively theyâ€™re as dangerous as anybody in the west and probably in the nation.â€¦ If you give those guys unwarranted scoring chances theyâ€™re going to cash in.â€
Goldsworthy is hoping for a low-scoring, tight-checking series that will allow his team to take some points from the nationâ€™s 12th ranked team.
Making A Change
Last season, the Augsburg hockey program was deeply affected by the loss of Lois Johnson, wife of assistant coach Bruce Johnson, to breast cancer. Since then, Augsburg players have honored her memory with pink stickers on the playersâ€™ helmets. But this season, several players wanted to go even further.
As the result of an effort spearheaded by three Auggie seniors — Andrew Kent, Brett Way and Kurt Hogard — the hockey team has turned Saturdayâ€™s game against St. Thomas from a mere contest against a formidable opponent into a chance to try and help find a cure to the disease that claimed the life of one of the programâ€™s friends.
The players have organized fundraisers and events that will run parallel to Saturdayâ€™s contest, and the team itself will be participating by rolling out pink home uniforms. All proceeds from the fundraisers will be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization that has donated over $1 billion to fighting breast cancer since 1982.
Coach Brown is impressed with the effort from his team, and expects the turnout from what is usually a highly attended contest against St. Thomas to soar even higher this year. One thing is for certain: the entire Augsburg program is to be commended for fighting not just on the ice, but off it as well.