Past is Prologue
With a short week of only six games, the unquestionable highlight from the past weekend for the MIAC was Gustavus Adolphus going on the road and knocking off then-No. 15 University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The win came thanks to the Gusties special teams, as the Pointers out shot Gustavus by a 29-21 margin.
After falling down 1-0, David Martinson connected on a shorthanded opportunity at 5:46 of the first period, assisted by Ross Ring-Jarvi. Jarvi then connected on the first Gustavus power-play goal just under five minutes into the second period to give the visitors a 3-1 lead. After a Pointer comeback in the second, Cody Mosbeck put in the game winner on the power play with 15:35 left in the third. Following an insurance goal and an empty-net tally, the Gusties prevailed, 6-3. The loss dropped the Pointers out of the final
USCHO.com Division III poll of the calendar year.
Augsburg, currently sixth in the MIAC, was shut out in their road trip to UW-Eau Claire and River Falls, losing each contest by a score of 3-0. Both games featured an empty-net goal. Andrew Kent started in goal each night and made an impressive 79 total saves (four goals against) on the weekend. Bethel was on the other (bad) half of the Blugoldsâ€™ sweep, losing 3-1 on Saturday. Aaron Damjanovich made 28 saves for Bethel and Jake Kogler put up the only tally for the Royals. Despite having eight power plays, neither team could convert with the man advantage.
In addition, two MIAC teams faced off in a non-conference series as St. Johnâ€™s swept the Concordia Cobbers by scores of 8-3 and 3-2. The Johnnies out-shot the Cobbers 74-50 on the weekend, with Vince Wheeler getting both starts in net. Despite freshman Steele DeFazio getting nearly half of the playing time in conference games this season, St. Johnâ€™s coach Doug Schueller stood by Wheeler as his top goaltending option.
Even with the recent victories, it hasnâ€™t been the season that many were expecting for St. Johnâ€™s, a fact Schueller is keenly aware of.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t the start we were hoping for,â€ Schueller said. â€œI think we were in pretty much all those games — we lost quite a few one-goal hockey games. It got frustrating. We had a couple leads going into the third period and gave up those leads.â€
Schueller believes his teamâ€™s lackluster performance in the Friday game against St. Thomas propelled the squad towards the Saturday tie, and in turn, that momentum carried into the Concordia series.
â€œ[The final three games] brought some life back into our hockey team and weâ€™re feeling good about ourselves. We feel confident now that we can hold leads going into the third period and that we can win hockey games.â€
Clearing the Hurdles
Just six games took place involving MIAC teams last weekend and the conference struggled, going just 1-3-0 in the non-conference slate. The MIAC has struggled in games against the NCHA this season, posting a collective record of 10-26-1. The league actually finds itself in the same situation as another conference, the ECAC East, with an interlocking schedule. Letâ€™s line the two conferences up side-by-side and see how they compare halfway through the season.
Both the MIAC and ECAC East are below .500 in their Interlock play. For the MIAC, that means a 10-26-1 record against the NCHA, while the ECAC-East is 9-15-3 against the NESCAC. But both teams also play a significant number of games against a weaker league in their region that helps to offset the previous results. This is represented in a 7-0-1 record against the MCHA for the MIAC and an impressive 13-0-1 record against the ECAC Northeast for the ECAC East. Each league plays scarce other non-conference games, with the MIAC posting a 0-2-0 mark — a result of St. Thomas’ trip to the Primelink Shootout — and the ECAC-East a record of 2-2-1 in its various other non-conference action.
Nationally, the conferences are receiving the same level of recognition as well. In the latest USCHO poll, each league had one representative in the top 15. For the MIAC, the 9-2-0 Hamline Pipers landed at No. 10 while the ECAC Eastâ€™s Norwich, 3-2-0 on the season, is No. 12. In the â€œothers receiving votesâ€ category, two MIAC teams — Gustavus Adolphus, 9, and St. Olaf, 1 — and New England College (2) from the ECAC East were represented.
What does it all mean? As much as fans from the New England area and the western region may be unfamiliar with teams from the other side of the Division-III hockey landscape, these numbers give a strong indication that there may be some similarities, even from hundreds of miles away.
More importantly: what do these numbers mean come tournament time? That largely depends on the context, i.e. how do you compare the other conferences (NCHA/NESCAC and MCHA/ECAC Northeast)? With little data to go on in the regards, it will be a debate that is sure to reign in the coming months.
And it also makes the case for more interregional games. Such games give teams an opportunity to face new opponents, and for at least one team to have the bonding experience of a long road trip. The fans get to see something new as well, and those of us who follow Division III hockey closely get to see how various teams and leagues stack up. Itâ€™s a great situation for all involved and it would be great to see the NCAA attempt to encourage such meetings on the ice.
As MIAC teams reach the halfway point of the season, standings both in the conference and nationally begin to take shape. Every team has their eyes on the prize of winning the MIAC championship and securing the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament that accompanies it. But are any teams from the MIAC positioned to be in the discussion for Pool Câ€™s at-large bids? Letâ€™s take a look at each team, from most likely to least likely at this point to secure an at-large bid.
In-region record: 9-2-0
Wins against .500 or better teams: Stout
Losses against .500 or better teams: Superior, St. Scholastica
Losses against worse than .500 teams: None
Upcoming games against teams .500 or better: Eau Claire, Stevens Point, St. Olaf (twice), Bethel (twice), St. Thomas (twice), Gustavus Adolphus (twice)
Were it not for Pipers coach Scott Bell experimenting in the weekend series against Superior and St. Scholastica, the Pipers could be looking at an 11-0 record. The overtime loss to Superior is likely not of great concern, since the Yellowjackets will probably be the top overall seed in the West (this assessment, like all other made in the segment, assumes things stay somewhat similar to their current state). Much more concerning is the loss to St. Scholastica, a team that will likely be in the Pool C chase as well. The first series back from break will also go a long way towards determining Hamlineâ€™s chances for an at-large bid as the Pipers take on Eau Claire and Stevens Point. Then they begin their stretch in which they play the top four teams in the MIAC. It wonâ€™t be an easy road, but if the Pipers can limit the blemishes (and bumps and bruises), they have a strong case for Pool C consideration.
Chance of Pool C bid: 45% (sweeping Eau Claire and Stevens Point), 25% (swept by Eau Claire and Stevens Point)
St. Olaf Oles
In-region record: 7-2-1
Wins against .500 or better teams: Gustavus Adolphus (twice)
Losses against .500 or better teams: St. Norbert, Stout
Losses against worse than .500 teams: None (tie at Concordia [MN])
Upcoming games against teams .500 or better: Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Bethel (three times), St. Scholastica, Superior, Hamline (twice), St. Thomas (twice)
Like Hamline, the Olesâ€™ record has been built largely without playing teams that have had success this season. And also like the Pipers, the Oles will have a significant stretch of games that will determine if they are a contender beyond the MIAC. The Oles return from break early to travel to Eau Claire and Stevens Point January 2 and 3, play a Wednesday game against Bethel, and then host the only teams to have beaten the Pipers, St. Scholastica and Superior. Coming away with fewer than three wins in that stretch will make it very difficult for the Oles to be in a discussion for an at-large bid. The losses against Stout and St. Norbert already put St. Olaf in a less than favorable position in the western hierarchy; it will take several wins to improve their resume to give the Oles a chance to not require the MIAC automatic qualifier.
Chance of Pool C bid: 15% (three or more wins in first two weeks back from break), 5% (two or fewer wins)
Gustavus Adolphus Gusties
In-region record: 7-4-0
Wins against .500 or better teams: Stout, Bethel, Stevens Point
Losses against .500 or better teams: St. Norbert, St. Olaf (twice), Bethel
Losses against worse than .500 teams: None
Upcoming games against teams .500 or better: Elmira, Neumann/Norwich, Superior, St. Scholastica, St. Thomas (twice), Hamline (twice)
The Gustiesâ€™ 5-1 start looked promising for their Pool C chances, but recent results show how quickly fortunes can change in a 25 game season. A pair of losses to St. Olaf will likely keep Gustavus below the Oles in western rankings, barring a dramatic change of fortune for the Oles. The Gusties will head to Northfield, Vermont for the Times-Argus Invitational to play 2 of the three eastern teams listed above. The downside to this is that even a strong showing of two wins would not be reflected in the western region rankings. The next series of games at home against St. Scholastica and Superior have a much higher threshold for determining the Gustiesâ€™ Pool C fate. Given their likely position behind St. Olaf in line, it does not bode well for Gustavusâ€™ Pool C chances.
Chance of Pool C bid: 10% (spit or better against Superior and St. Scholastica), 3% (otherwise)
St. Thomas Tommies
In-region record: 4-2-2
Wins against .500 or better teams: Superior (tie against Scholastica)
Losses against .500 or better teams: Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Middlebury, Plattsburgh
Losses against worse than .500 teams: None (tie against St. Johnâ€™s)
Upcoming games against teams .500 or better: St. Norbert, Gustavus Adolphus (twice), Hamline (twice), St. Olaf (twice), Bethel (twice)
The Tommies are the rare benefactor of the regional segregation, as their two losses against eastern teams at the Primelink Shootout will not directly factor into the western regional rankings. That being said, the Tommies are still a long shot for an at-large birth. With no wins against middle-of-the-pack NCHA teams, even the victory against Superior will likely not be enough to move St. Thomas up the rankings. Victories over River Falls and St. Norbert after returning from break would likely do more to bring down those teamsâ€™ profiles than to launch St. Thomas into Pool C contention. The good news for the Tommies? They trail MIAC-leading St. Olaf by merely four points in the league standings, having played two fewer games. As always, the Tommies will be one of the favorites for the automatic qualifier.
Chance of Pool C bid: 2%
In-region record: 6-6-1
Wins against .500 or better teams: Gustavus Adolphus, Marian
Losses against .500 or better teams: Gustavus Adolphus, Eau Claire (tie against Marian)
Losses against worse than .500 teams: Augsburg (twice), Superior River Falls
Upcoming games against teams .500 or better: Eau Claire, St. Olaf (three times), Hamline (twice), St. Thomas (twice)
The news isnâ€™t good for a rebuilding Bethel program. Every win against a solid team is met with a loss or tie to the same team. The Royals are also 0-3 against the NCHA, likely dropping them down in head-to-head and common opponents criteria. Nor does it get much better, as the Royals have no further games against NCHA opponents. It would take nothing short of the Royals running the table to get them into serious Pool C consideration.
Chance of Pool C: 1%
Other MIAC teams
None of Augsburg, St. Maryâ€™s Concordia, or St. Johnâ€™s have more than three victories on the season, and all have seven or more losses on the year. With six losses generally the threshold, even a complete turnaround by one of the teams might not be enough to get them serious consideration. These teams are now focused on making their way into the MIAC playoffs and attempting to gain access through the leagueâ€™s automatic qualifier.
Chance of Pool C: Less than 1%
With apologies to MCHA scribe Matthew Webb, Adrian warrants a mention in this space for the unique reason that on January 4 they will play their only non-conference in-region game at St. Johnâ€™s. This is undoubtedly not the match-up Bulldogs coach Ron Fogharty envisioned when he scheduled the Johnnies in the offseason. While St. Johnâ€™s may have turned a corner by going 2-0-1 in their last three, a win in January will likely not be the signature win the Bulldogs need to merit Pool C consideration. Of course, St. Johnâ€™s coach Doug Schueller views the match-up as a matter of pride for the conference.
â€œWhenever weâ€™re playing out of conference, we want the MIAC to do well,â€ Schueller said. â€œWith Adrian coming in here, itâ€™s a big pride thing for us to step out and represent our league. And I know when any MIAC team is playing out of conference, thatâ€™s a huge objective for us — to try and represent our league to the best of our abilitiesâ€
But the fact that Adrian will be the favorite on the road doesnâ€™t deter the St. Johnâ€™s coach.
â€œItâ€™s a good chance for us to make a statement against a nationally ranked team. Weâ€™re excited about the opportunity. Itâ€™s going to be interesting to see how our guys come back from break. We have three days to prepare and weâ€™ll get after it hard there, and weâ€™ll be challenged by a pretty good team on the fourth.â€
Any chance the Bulldogs have of reaching the tournament this season could be derailed with a loss to an improving Johnnies squad.
Re-seeding the MIAC
Halfway through the season we have some idea of how the MIAC will shake out over the second half of the season. Given the opportunity, here is how I would re-order my preseason predictions:
2 St. Thomas
3 St. Olaf
4 Gustavus Adolphus
7 St. Johnâ€™s
8 St. Maryâ€™s
The Pipers and Tommies have each played two fewer in-conference games than the Oles, leading me to believe they will leapfrog the current conference leaders in the second half. The Gusties will likely separate themselves from the Royals and secure the right to host the opening-round playoff game. Augsburg may give Bethel a run for the final playoff spot.
The St. Johnâ€™s sweep over Concordia, even though in non-conference games, gives optimism the Johnnies can slide up the standings. While Concordia has shown improvement and will be a strong program in years to come, it is increasingly looking like the Cobbers will be hard pressed to erase the effects of their previous series with the Cardinals.
And with that this column takes its holiday slumber. It has been an exciting first portion of the hockey season, and the second half looks to provide just as much intrigue. Happy holidays to all our readers, and weâ€™ll see you in January.