MIAC Championship Preview

For All the Marbles

It’s taken five months, 75 games, and countless ounces of blood, sweat, and tears, but tonight the MIAC crowns its champion. Gustavus Adolphus and Hamline have braved the tortuous regular season schedule and the ‘win-or-go-home’ desperation of the playoffs. Now, one of those teams will advance to the NCAA Tournament and a chance at the ultimate prize, while the other will hang up their skates until next fall. Here’s a look at tonight’s match-up.

Gustavus Adolphus Gusties

After a second place finish in the regular season, Gustavus has fought their way into the MIAC championship by virtue of last Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the St. Thomas Tommies. The victory was the third this season over St. Thomas by the Gusties, an effort for which Gustavus coach Brett Petersen is proud.

“I thought it was a great team effort on our behalf,” Petersen said. “Our guys played very hard and we just had a number of contributors at key points of the game.”

However, he wasn’t too quick to put all of the kudos on his own squad, noting that season injuries to several St. Thomas forwards the previous week undermined the opposing squad.

“I just felt that in the first period we did more standing around than we have in a while. We just needed to take a breath and play,” Petersen said. “I think what ended up happening in the last two periods is that our guys just pinned their ears back and played.”

The Tommies jumped out to an early lead with a goal by Adam Davis less than three minutes into the game. That advantage held up through the end of the period before the Gusties’ more aggressive play resulted in pucks finding the back of the net.

Eric Bigham scored his 13th of the year just before the end of the second, with Brad Wieck and Casey Dynan adding the game winning and insurance goals, respectively, in the third period. Matthew Lopes made 18 saves in the win.

Now the Gusties turn their attention to Hamline with the MIAC title on the line. These two teams played just 10 days ago in a weekend series where each team won on its home ice. Gustavus was an impressive 4-for-11 on the power play in that series, and the team’s 21.9% clip will be put to the test in tonight’s game as well. Success on the power play along with the defensive efficiency that has led to the Gusties leading the league in fewest goals allowed could be a recipe for success against the Pipers.

No member of this year’s Guastavus team has played more than one playoff game in a season, but Petersen believes his team has gotten any playoff jitters out of their system.

“I think we got rid of that on the first period Saturday night,” he said. “The intent now is to hopefully start where we ended on Saturday. The reality of this game is the opportunity to play more. And that was the same opportunity we had Saturday night. So, from that standpoint, it’s similar.”

And if the game is coming down to the wire, Petersen believes his team can handle that as well.

“We have a very mature group, we didn’t lose much from last year. This group has been together for quite some time. We’ve been in a lot of tight games. There’s so much parity in college hockey it seems like you’re either tied, up one goal, or down one goal after two periods every night.”

The key for the Gusties may very well be junior winger David Martinson, who has nearly twice as many goals as any other Gustavus player.

“We’ve gotten a lot of production out of David Martinson. He’s been our leading goal scorer throughout [the year],” Petersen said. “He’s been our best player the entire year, and one of the top players in our league.”

With Hamline having a much more balanced attack, whether or not the Pipers can shut down Martinson may very well determine the outcome of the game.

As for questions the Gusties have an advantage by not playing the Thursday game, Petersen doesn’t buy it, noting the teams will be on the same rest since Saturday’s game and that this game has all the makings of a close contest.

“Obviously we’re familiar with [each other]. They have a very good group. They won the league last year,” Petersen explained. “They have experience and they have very good players. Our series a week ago was two good games.”

One more good game is exactly what MIAC fans will be looking for, and Petersen’s Gusties will try to give it to them.

Hamline Pipers

It had been a while since the Hamline Pipers even made the playoffs before last year’s run to the MIAC championship game, a contest they lost to St. Thomas. Yet the Pipers team that made last year’s final did so without any seniors on a roster. That squad returns in full to this season’s championship game, with another year of experience, more maturity, and with MIAC power St. Thomas having already been disposed of by the Gusties on Saturday.

“I would say the experience from last year has helped out quite a bit,” Hamline coach Scott Bell declared this week.
And that experience has been required as Hamline first had to outlast an opportunistic Augsburg team in the play-in game, then travel to regular season champion St. Olaf last Saturday.

“Augsburg was a scary team for us just because we played so well against them and lost twice. We didn’t seem to have one bounce go our way,” Bell said of Thursday night’s opening round game. “You out-shoot them and do all those things and they’re still right there. So it was kind of an interesting game that way.”

Only once did either the Pipers or Auggies lead by more than a single goal in Thursday’s game. It was 2-2 after one, with teams trading goals back and forth. After each team netted an extra tally in the second, the Pipers jumped out to a 5-3 lead on what would be the game-winning goal from Cole Scattarelli. Augsburg made one back, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Pipers’ attack and a 44-25 disadvantage in shots on goal.

However, Bell wasn’t concerned about how close the game was, considering the nature of a couple of Augsburg’s chances.

“The first power play goal they scored was a 5-on-3. They went back door and we had it covered, but it hit [one of our player’s] shin pad and went in. The second was 5-on-3 where the player fanned on the shot, it hit the post, and bounced right to their guy. It threw our goalie off cause he fanned on it and threw a knuckleball at the net… . It literally went off the post right on to the guy’s stick on the back door.”

Freshman netminder Beau Christian has come on strong at the end of the year for the Pipers. His 21 saves on 25 shots might not look impressive statistically, but Bell notes he made some stops at crucial junctures of the game.

“There was a 2-on-1 or 2-on-2 back door play where he came across and it was the save of the game. That’s the one we needed and he made it…, He gave us an opportunity to win the game.”

Saturday’s game was an entirely different story with Hamline jumping out to an early lead over the Oles and never looking back, scoring the eventual game winner 3:25 into the first period.

“We’ve played four elimination games out of our last five,” Bell commented on his team’s ability to jump ahead of the regular season champions. “I think our guys have started to feel comfortable in that situation and maybe that was the case down in St. Olaf. We had a bit of motivation for them with how the game ended up at our place the first time we played them. So I think our guys were pretty motivated to play St. Olaf.”

Earlier in the season, the Oles defeated the Pipers 4-1 in their own barn, despite Hamline out-shooting the visitors, 36-33.

With the win on Saturday, Hamline advanced to their second straight MIAC championship game, and the Pipers will be looking to reverse last season’s result.

“We feel confident we can play with anybody when we have our full lineup. There was a stretch there where we didn’t have our full lineup–every team goes through that. Now we have that.” Bell said, noting that his team was not at full strength in the second game against Gustavus during the regular season, a game the Pipers lost, 3-2.

“I think our guys feel real comfortable about [the game]. We know we have to play well; we know what we have to do,” Bell said, noting the intimidation his team might have felt last season. “There was a lot of first time jitters and [not knowing] what to expect.”

Now the team has significant senior leadership, but the impact player for the Pipers is likely Chris Berenguer, a sophomore defenseman who leads the Pipers in scoring.

“Chris Berenguer is, in my opinion, the best player in our conference hands down. He might be one of the best players in the country. He plays in every situation…. He’s an absolute stud.” Bell said.

How he performs in tonight’s game could have an impact on his consideration for postseason awards.

However, the Gusties will have to stop a flurry of Hamline attackers, six of whom have notched over a point per game this season, with two others just outside that threshold. Add in a conference-leading 25.9% power play going against the Gusties’ below-average penalty kill, and the Pipers will be looking to capitalize on opportunities.

Yet, the Pipers’ defense will still have to stop a potent Gusties’ attack, and that has been one of the team’s weaker spots this season.

As coach Bell summed up:

“Everybody’s good at this point.”

The Final Call

One of these two teams will be coming away with the MIAC championship this evening, while the other will leave empty handed. The major battles come to mind. Can whichever Gustavus goaltender gets the call survive the onslaught of the Pipers’ attack? And can the Pipers slow down then elite talent of David Martinson to keep the Gusties off the board? Expect a high scoring, very intense game, but the final prediction goes to the Pipers and their experience of having been here before . . .

The Pick: Hamline 6, Gustavus Adolphus 4.

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