MIAC Season Preview

Every season across Division III hockey it seems that parity becomes more and more prevalent. As one coach put it, “it used to be that you could look at your schedule and pencil in six to seven games as ones that you’d win; now you look at it and it’s maybe one to two.”

This past season saw four MIAC teams separated by a whopping three points. With teams near the top losing in some cases significant scoring or goaltending and teams near the bottom returning most of their team, that makes this season even more wide open.

This is easily one of my favorite times of the season. Some teams have a game or two under their belt while others are gearing up to start their seasons in a week or so. Will powerhouse teams be able to rebuild and hold off everyone else? Or will a solid team put it all together and steal the show?

One of my favorite quotes is one attributed to the late Herb Brooks: “When I look at a clean sheet of ice, all I see are possibilities.”

Right now is the ‘clean sheet’ time in college hockey when people are full of expectations, hopes, and dreams. They’re getting ready to drop the puck to see where those possibilities will lead.

This is my first season covering the MIAC for USCHO, but its nowhere near my first following D-III hockey. The MIAC this season is one of the most wide open conferences I’ve seen since I began following the league.

Each of these teams could easily finish two to three spots above or below where
I’ve picked them, so I might be better served picking names out of a hat than trying to rationalize out where I think they’ll finish. The league is that close together right now.

That said, here are my predicted picks (in reverse order of finish) for the 2009-2010 MIAC campaign.

St. Mary’s Cardinals

Head Coach: Bill Moore, 3rd season overall and at St. Mary’s (19-30-2)
2008-09 Overall Record: 4-20-1
2008-09 MIAC Record: 3-12-1 (9th)
Key Returners: F Mike Glaesmer, jr., (8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points); D A.J. Woodward, jr., (4-10-14)
Key Losses: None
2009-10 Projected Finish: Ninth.

It’s been six years since St. Mary’s finished above .500 or made the MIAC playoffs. Despite only losing three players from last year’s team to graduation, this does not look to be the year the Cardinals break that streak.
Last season St. Mary’s had the worst defense in MIAC play, giving up 5.81 goals per game. They also had the second worst offense in the league, scoring 2.88 goals per game.

While this seems bleak, the Cardinals do return the lion’s share of last year’s team. If players such as Morgan Shepherd (0-5-5 last season) can find their scoring touch again (13-13-26 two years ago) and the other returning players continue to develop, St. Mary’s should be able to stay in games where they were overmatched last season.

While it has been a while since St. Mary’s last postseason appearance, coach Bill Moore remembers better days. While this is his second consecutive season behind the bench, he also served as interim coach in 1989-90.

“One thing we want to do this year is come at it with a new attitude, and compete every day for the entire game, which is something we may have lacked a little bit last season.”

The area with the biggest room for improvement is in net. While the Cardinals return a senior goaltender, two incoming freshmen will be fighting for the starting job.

All in all, while it looks like it may be another season to recruit and rebuild, the Cardinals opponents would do well not to overlook them. Last season’s team managed upset victories over University of Wisconsin-River Falls as well as a season ending win over St. John’s that kept the Johnnies out of the MIAC playoffs.

While I do not see the Cardinals making the postseason this season, it does hold a lot of potential for them. With another season to work under coach Brown’s system and leadership from players such as senior defensemen Jeff Miller and Nick Carlson, this team should be improved over last year’s squad. They should be in more games and in position to surprise any team expecting to win without their opponent playing full bore.

Unfortunately though, with the MIAC getting better as a whole, improving as a team doesn’t necessarily mean a climb up the standings.

St. John’s Johnnies

Head Coach: Doug Schueller, 2nd Season Overall and at St. John’s (10-14-1)
2008-09 Overall Record: 10-14-1
2008-09 MIAC Record: 7-8-1 (6th)
Key Returners: F Mike Wallgren, jr., (7-11-18); D Brent Broderson, jr., (6-12-18); F Grant Ellena, so., (9-6-15)
Key Losses: F Jake Hipp (12-10-22); F Pat Connelly (11-6-17), F Brian Baker (9-8-17); F Clayton Rehm (1-15-16); G Vince Wheeler (10-9-1, 3.00, .903)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Eighth.

If you want an example of how close the MIAC was last year, I present to you the 2008-2009 St. John’s Johnnies!

Last season St. John’s finished two points behind fifth place and the last MIAC playoff spot. Over the season, the Johnnies lost seven games by one goal, including four conference games.

With a few more lucky bounces their way, they could have been fighting for the top spot in the league going into their last game of the season, instead of needing a win to reach the playoffs.

However they also won six games by one goal, including five conference games. That means that with a few more bad bounces against them over the season, instead of having a shot at a playoff spot coming into the last weekend, they could have been in eighth place and looking forward to the next season.

Every game in this conference is important. Every odd bounce of the puck, lack of hustle, or fluky goal can mean the difference between making or missing the playoffs.

Will St. John’s have the puck luck to rise above the parity and return to the top of the MIAC? While its certainly possible with the league looking closer than ever this season, I picked them finishing closer to the bottom than the top.

The Johnnies lose significant parts of last year’s team. Three of their top four goal scorers? Gone. Their top goalie? Gone.

After losing that scoring and their top netminder, the team will be looking to rely on their defense early on, and luckily that is the one area of the team that mostly returns intact. Gone to graduation is Lance Wheeler, who manned the blue line in all 25 games for the team last year; after him though, the team returns all of their defensemen.

Brent Broderson returns for his junior year after playing defense in all his team’s games last season, as well as finishing tied for second in the team in scoring.

Returning with him are forwards Mike Wallgren and Grant Ellena, the team’s top returning goal scorers (seven and nine goals, respectively). Also returning after missing half of last season is Gabriel Harren, who coach Doug Schueller is hoping will have a good full season.

“We always take a lot of pride in our offensive zone play, and I’m looking for us to improve some more in this area in order to play more of the game in the offensive end of the rink,” he said.

The Johnnies will almost certainly be depending on returning players early on in the season while the team figures out the goaltending situation and new players get their skates under them. With returning players having more experience under Schueller’s system, one or two impact freshmen may be all it takes to push the Johnnies up the standings into the playoffs.

If the Johnnies can get solid goaltending to replace Wheeler (who saw all but some 300 minutes of ice time last season), they could be in the mix for the playoffs again this season. If their goaltending is shaky, though, they are going to need to get a lot of offensive output to match their sixth place finish last year.

Bethel Royals

Head Coach: Joel Johnson, 3rd season overall and at Bethel (27-20-3)
2008-09 Overall Record: 11-13-1
2008-09 MIAC Record: 7-9-0 (7th)
Key Returners: F Chris Fiala, so., (9-17-26); D Mason Swenson, so., (5-9-14); G Aaron Damjanovich, sr., (9-13-1, 3.45, .904)
Key Losses: F Kent Bostrom (11-22-33); F Brad Peterson (10-15-25)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Seventh.

Last season, Bethel finished three points out from fifth place and making the MIAC playoffs. That team was split between several freshman making impacts as well as several seniors leading the team in scoring.

The main question facing the Royals is where their scoring is going to come from. Like St. John’s, the Royals lose three of their top four goal scorers. Bostrom and Peterson are gone to graduation, and were the only players to tally 10 or more goals.

Sophomore Chris Fiala is the team’s top returning goal scorer, notching nine tallies in 23 games last season. After him though, only one player returns who scored at least five goals: defenseman Mason Swenson.

Unlike St. John’s, the Royals return their starting goaltender. Aaron Damjanovich saw all but 170 minutes of ice time between the pipes last season and put up solid numbers, with a 3.45 goals against average and .904 save percentage.

In front of him, the Royals lose two senior defensemen, but return a solid core of blueliners made up mostly of sophomores, along with senior Kyle Dynan.
If the returning defensemen can shut down opponents from scoring, it will give their young forwards a chance to step up and fill the scoring void.

Their opening schedule is not going to make this easy though. While the Royals start with four non-conference games to try to figure things out, they only play one of their first seven games at home. After that stretch, they host last year’s runner up in the NCAA championship game Gustavus Adolphus, as well as the NCHA’s UW-River Falls.

There are no easy games in Bethel’s first half schedule, as following that tough homestand they head to Concordia MN for two games between two teams that may see themselves fighting for the fifth and final MIAC playoff spot.

Their second half schedule starts off easier with 2 against MCHA last place team Northland, but then quickly gets tougher with two more non-conference games against NCHA teams St. Scholastica and UW-Superior. After those, they finish up with 10 straight conference games that will most likely make or break their season.

A schedule like that does not do any team favors, let alone one that will be searching to find who’s going to step up and score goals.
Coach Joel Johnson knows that making up for the offense they lost will be a team effort.

”You don’t replace someone like Bostrom (the Royals’ leading scorer last season) with one player; you just hope that the rest of the team can make contributions that take us above where we were. This year’s team will rely more on scoring from all over, instead of our top line.”

Bethel will be focusing more on keeping games low scoring and strong special teams to give them a boost, and while some players may not end up on the score sheet, the efforts they put in are absolutely necessary to make a system like this work.

Juniors Christian Fogerty and Tom Menozzi, as well as sophomore Jake Kogler are some of these players, and will be relied on to put in solid performances, even if it doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score.

As a whole, this Bethel team looks to be improved over last year’s version, but with the quality of the MIAC improving as a whole, that might not show up in the standings at the end of the season. Time will tell if the improvements made will be enough to push the Royals back into the MIAC playoffs.

Concordia (MN) Cobbers

Head Coach: Chris Howe, 2nd season overall and at Concordia (MN) (4-19-2)
2008-09 Overall Record: 4-19-2
2008-09 MIAC Record: 2-12-2 (9th)
Key Returners: F Marc Harrie, so., (9-11-20); D Mark Johnson, so., (1-11-12); D Erick Galt, so., (3-8-11); G Mike Persson, sr., (1-9-1, 3.95, .85)
Key Losses: F Alec Holen, (9-11-20)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Sixth.

Last season saw the Cobbers finish last in the MIAC with a 2-12-2 overall record. However, when you look closer at their season, you will notice two ties, seven one goal losses and four defeats by two tallies. This was a team that was in most of their games until the very end.

They also had 18 freshmen on the roster, and bring in a handful more this season.

When I spoke to coach Chris Howe, he was extremely excited to see what the young players had to offer.

“We’re going to have 22 underclassmen on the team this year. Last season some of our best players were freshmen, and again this season some of our best players are our freshmen.”

That is not to say that the upperclassmen are being pushed aside. Coach Howe was proud of the way the returning juniors and seniors are taking a leadership role on the team, something made even more important with so many first or second year players.

Howe’s focus for the team is defense first, especially taking care of things in the Cobbers’ defensive end. He wants to instill a tough, defensive mindset and have his team playing hard all game, every game.

“Goals are at a premium, especially in this league with how defensive-minded it is. If you don’t take care of the puck in your own end, you’re just going to make it that much harder on yourself to win games.”

Concordia lost only three players from last season to graduation, meaning their entire defensive corps will return. Returning with them is senior goaltender Mike Persson.

Last season saw Persson mostly splitting time with freshman Elliot Okland, with both putting up similar numbers. This season though, will see Persson getting the lion’s share of ice time from the get-go.

“He’s worked really hard over the summer to improve his game, and it shows. The team has really rallied behind him since we’ve started practicing, and it’ll be his job when the season starts.”

With improved goaltending, hard working players, and good young talent, the Cobbers could be the biggest surprise in the MIAC this season. Teams coming into a game expecting an easy win will be in for a rude awakening.

Augsburg Auggies

Head Coach: Chris Brown, 9th season overall (96-99-15) and 4th at Augsburg (27-43-7)
2008-09 Overall Record: 9-16-1
2008-09 MIAC Record: 8-7-1 (5th)
Key Returners: F Chris Johnson, sr., (14-28-42); F Nick Guran, so., (16-15-31); F Joel Sauer, jr., (15-16-31); F Jim Jenson, jr., (12-14-26); F Trevor Doden, so., (10-14-24); F Mario Mjelleli, jr., (9-13-22)
Key Losses: G Andrew Kent (9-16-1, 3.99, .881)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Fifth.

If you head out to an Augsburg game this coming season, make sure you get there early. You will not want to miss a single minute, because if last season was any indication, goals are going to be coming fast and furious for 60 minutes.

The Auggies led the MIAC in scoring with 4.56 goals per game last season, but they also gave up 4.00 goals per game, putting them seventh in scoring defense.
This is another team that is very difficult to pick a spot for. They lost only one significant player from last year’s team and return virtually every scoring threat from last season. They also finished on a tear, going 6-1-1 to close out the regular season.

However, the one player they lost was a big one: goaltender Andrew Kent. Kent was in net virtually every minute the Auggies were on the ice last season (all but 51:23).

Coach Chris Brown has two sophomore goalies returning from last year’s team, and brought in two freshmen to compete for the starting job as well.

“We’ve only been on the ice for a little over a week now, and the job is currently wide open. We’re hoping someone steps up and earns the job going forward.”

Like most MIAC teams, defensive play is the focus right now.

“Our goals against last season were way too high. We led the league in scoring, but gave up the third highest goals allowed. We need to work on being more detail oriented without the puck, and working on the technical and positional aspects as well.”

Coach Brown made sure to point out the leadership the team brings back, as well as how hard the players push themselves to succeed.

With that kind of determination on top of an increased focus on defense, this team could be dangerous. With goaltending being a question mark, the rest of the team is going to have to step up early on until things get settled, and their schedule favors them here. Augsburg plays only four conference games in the first half of the season.

That leaves a tough second half for them, with only make-or-break conference games from mid-January till the end of the season. But if they can solidify their defense and get reliable goaltending, the offense this team brings back could make them a threat to win the MIAC outright. However, with a poor defensive showing last season and lots of questions about goaltending, that might be a stretch.

With the firepower they have, they should make the playoffs. And once there, anything can happen. This Auggies team will be a lot of fun to follow this season, that’s for sure!

St. Thomas Tommies

Head Coach: Terry Skrypek, 23rd season overall and at St. Thomas (402-183-41)
2008-09 Overall Record: 12-11-3
2008-09 MIAC Record: 9-5-2 (3rd)
Key Returners: F Rob Johnson, jr., (19-16-35); F Andrew Kappers, jr., (8-15-23); F Parker Burgess, sr., (10-11-21); F Alex Arnason, sr., (9-11-20); G Cary Wood, so., (8-3-1, 2.53, .895)
Key Losses: D Adam Davis (7-19-26); F Tom Knutson (9-13-22)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Fourth.

For the past two seasons, St. Thomas has finished tied for second in the MIAC.

By now it’s almost become expected that the Tommies will finish in the upper half of the league. They play a defensive style of play that does not allow their opponents many chances, and at the same time allows the Tommies to have chances of their own.

This season will be a big test for them on defense, as they lose three defensemen to graduation. Experience in net may play a big role early on in the season, as players who may have not seen as much ice time in previous seasons are asked to carry heavier loads.

Returning is sophomore goaltender Cary Wood, who last season had a stellar 2.53 goals against average to go along with a respectable .895 save percentage. On some teams, a save percentage like that would lead to a much higher goals against average, but against St. Thomas’s defense, their opponents averaged only 24.3 shots per game.

The Tommies offense will have to do without one of the top scoring defensemen in the league as Adam Davis (7-19-26) was lost to graduation. But the team does return their top three goal scorers last season, including junior Rob Johnson. Johnson was a terror on the power play last season, notching 10 power-play goals (St. Thomas had 31 tallies on the man advantage last season.)

Like most defensive teams, special teams play has always been of importance to St. Thomas. It’s a cliché, but being able to shut down your opponent’s power play while being able to capitalize on your own opportunities can go a long way towards winning a game, especially when your opponents tend to have limited scoring chances away from the power play.

If the Tommies are weaker on defense this season, it will be a tough start to the season for them. After four non-conference games, they open MIAC play away against Augsburg . . . who had the highest scoring offense in the conference last season.

If St. Thomas reloads on defense instead of rebuilding, this is a team that will cause the rest of the MIAC fits all season. Solid defensive play, solid goaltender, the ability to score from more than just the top line, and solid special teams all add up to a team that should be competing for one of the top spots in the MIAC all season.

St. Olaf Oles

Head Coach: Sean Goldsworthy, 13th season overall and at St. Olaf (123-151-35)
2008-09 Overall Record: 16-7-3
2008-09 MIAC Record: 12-1-3 (1st)
Key Returners: F Isak Tranvik, jr., (11-19-30); F Bryan Osmondson, sr., (9-9-18); G Nick Krauss, jr., (13-3-1, 2.58, .919)
Key Losses: F Dylan Mueller (14-18-32); F Roger Trousdale (9-16-25); F Nick Stalock (12-10-22); D Sam Windsor (11-6-17)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Third.

Unlike some other teams, St. Olaf has no questions surrounding their goaltender situation. The Oles return the MIAC’s top statistical goalie in junior Nick Krauss.

Last season the Oles were second in the MIAC in scoring defense, allowing only 2.44 goals per game. While they did lose three of their top five scorers, this is a balanced team that returns many players poised to fill the gaps.

Forward Isak Tranvik returns for his junior year after putting up an impressive 30 points last season. Coach Sean Goldsworthy singled out sophomore defensemen Derek Grogan, Charlie Raskob, and Caleb Harrison as players he expects to play a bigger role this season as well.

Coach Goldsworthy went on to talk about the philosophy he has for the team.

”This is a defensive league, so obviously it’s important to focus on your own defensive play. But at the same time it’s important not to neglect offense.”

It sounds simple enough, but all too often you see teams focusing on one side in favor of the other, leaving them with a weakness. This St. Olaf team is solid from top to bottom and from one end of the ice to the other. They won’t dazzle you with flashy tricks or coast to coast rushes, but they will put out line after line of hard working and skilled players.

Last season saw the Oles jump from a sixth place finish two years ago to a MIAC regular season championship. It also saw the second and seventh place teams in the MIAC separated by six points. Despite that parity, St. Olaf finished in first place with a seven point lead. They did not lead the league in scoring and they didn’t have the fewest goals allowed. They did not lead the league in penalty kill percentage, power play percentage, or fewest penalty minutes per game. What they did do was finish in the top of every one of those categories.

They might not blow you away in any particular area, but they will likely be average or above average in all of them. With that kind of balance, the Oles’ opponents will be hard pressed to find a weakness to exploit. That very same balance also allows the Oles to take advantage of weaknesses in the teams they play.

If a team does not show up ready to work hard for a full 60 minutes, you’re likely to see St. Olaf come out on top. And if the rest of the MIAC isn’t ready to fight hard all season long, look for St. Olaf to come out near the top of the league again this season.

Hamline Pipers

Head Coach: Scott Bell, 5th season overall and at Hamline (43-54-8)
2008-09 Overall Record: 16-11-1
2008-09 MIAC Record: 9-7-0 (4th)
Key Returners: D Chris Berenguer, jr., (14-25-39); F Brian Arrigoni, so., (12-17-29); F Kyle Kurr, sr., (13-15-28); F Ryan Kupperman, jr., (13-14-27); G Beau Christian, so., (9-7-1, 2.56, .904)
Key Losses: F Dustin Fulton (12-23-35); D Joe Long (13-17-30)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Second.

For any other team, losing a 30 point player, let alone the second best scoring defenseman (13-17-30) in the conference, would be a serious concern. While it is still not a loss to be taken lightly, Hamline has the luxury of returning the league’s top and fourth highest scoring defensemen.

Hamline finished with the second best offense in MIAC play last year, finishing the season with two fewer goals than Augsburg. The Pipers lost some valuable players, but return the lion’s share of their team.

Besides the obvious scoring threats they bring back, coach Scott Bell has high expectations for two sophomores who will be playing their first full season for the Pipers. Forwards Jordan VanGilder and Kelly Plude saw limited action last season, and with an offseason to get accustomed to Bell’s style and philosophy, should see more ice time this coming year.

If the rest of Hamline’s team performs the way they did last season, they will be in good shape. If they improve on last season, expect the Pipers to be in the mix for the regular season title.

While they do score a lot of goals, Hamline doesn’t just rely on their offense to carry them in games. Sophomore Beau Christian had a solid performance in net last season, allowing only 2.56 goals per game and finishing with a .904 save pct. With two defensemen lost to graduation, Christian may have to start strong while players get accustomed to higher expectations and responsibilities.

Christian is no stranger to taking on responsibilities himself though. He started his freshman season backing up then-junior Matt Wanvig, but when Wanvig struggled, it was Christian’s job to come in and try and shut the door.

One area that could make or break Hamline’s season is special teams, and coach Bell pointed out that this is an area they put extra emphasis on each season.
The Pipers lead the MIAC in power-play percentage last season, scoring on 23.0% of their opportunities. However, they also were second in the league in penalty minutes, meaning their opponents got plenty of opportunities of their own.

Compounding the problem, they finished seventh in penalty kill percentage, with their opponents scoring on 20.9% of their power-play chances.

If the Pipers can get consistent goaltending this season, their offense should net them enough goals to make them competitive with any opponent they face. If they can decrease the number of power-play goals they give up, whether by giving up less chances or killing more penalties, then this might be the year the Pipers take home the MIAC title.

Gustavus Adolphus Golden Gusties

Head Coach: Brett Peterson, 10th season overall and at Gustavus Adolphus (113-110-16)
2008-09 Overall Record: 19-11-0
2008-09 MIAC Record: 10-6-0 (2nd)
Key Returners: F David Martinson, sr., (26-15-41); F Ross Ring-Jarvi, so., (10-21-31); F Patrick Dynan, sr., (8-16-24); F Brad Wieck, jr., (8-16-24); F Eric Bigham, sr., (14-8-22); F Rory Dynan, sr., (12-9-21), G Josh Swartout, jr., (8-6-0, 3.17, .883)
Key Losses: F Casey Dynan (9-10-19); G Matthew Lopes (11-5-0, 2.24, .906)
2009-10 Projected Finish: First.

I know some people will think this is the easy choice to finish first, but Gustavus Adolphus has earned it.

Last postseason the Gusties went on a tear, winning the MIAC tournament, and then advancing through the NCAA tournament until finally losing in the national championship game. A lot of people are familiar with this story, but what they’re not familiar with is that Gustavus was a solid team all year.

They finished the regular season in second place, tied with St. Thomas with 20 points. The most obvious strength of their team was its defense, as they averaged only 2.25 goals against in conference play. They did not stand out offensively, finishing fifth out of nine teams with 3.62 goals per game.

Some things that may have been overlooked about the Gusties were their special teams play and their discipline. They were the second least penalized team in the MIAC, had the third best power play, and fifth best penalty kill.

This is a team that doesn’t beat itself and takes advantage of their opportunities. They do the little things it takes to consistently put them in a position to win.

This is not a team that relied solely on a hot goalie to carry them through the playoffs, like some casual observers may think.

The Gusties do lose the goalie that saw most of the playing time down the stretch, but junior Josh Swartout put up respectable numbers over the course of last season, and will hopefully be able to build on them.

Up front, the Gusties return virtually their entire team, including six players who put up more than 20 points, and four players who scored at least 10 goals. They lost no defensemen to graduation, which has to be a scary prospect to
offenses across the league.

If they can get solid goaltending throughout the season, the depth, defense, and special teams of the Gusties will make them very difficult to beat on any given night, giving them a good chance of adding a MIAC regular season title to go along side last year’s playoff championship banner.

MIAC Showcase

This Friday through Sunday (Oct. 30-Nov. 1) the inaugural MIAC Showcase will take place at the Bloomington Ice Gardens (Bloomington, MN.) All nine MIAC teams will be in action against each other, with each team playing two non-conference games.

If you are a fan of the MIAC or just a fan of hockey in general, I strongly advise that you take advantage of this opportunity for a great weekend of hockey.

Each day will have three games (game times are 2 p.m., 5 p.m., and 8 p.m. each day), and admission is $5 per day (children under five are free.)
Directions, schedules, and more information are available on the MIAC Web site, as well as on the Web sites of most MIAC teams.

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