This Week in MIAC: Nov. 12, 2009

Pipers Pack a Punch

The biggest bright spot for the MIAC this weekend was the Hamline Pipers. On Friday, the Pipers won 6-3 at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, who may be the most improved team in the NCHA this season. On Saturday, Hamline was the only MIAC team not to lose to their rival conference, coming out of new No. 1 St. Norbert with a 1-1 tie.

Both of these games had their share of drama, and neither one came easily. On Friday, the teams combined for 25 penalties for over 60 minutes in the sin bin for various players. On Saturday the numbers were much more modest, with a combined 11 penalties for 22 minutes. However, 18 of those PIMs were in the second period alone, with each team seeing some 5-on-3 action.

St. Norbert wasn’t able to capitalize on either of their 5-on-3 chances, or any of their 5-on-4 opportunities either, as the Green Knights ended up going 0-6 on the power play.

“Our penalty kill came up big for us” said Hamline coach Scott Bell. “It was a hard fought game with both teams playing hard, and stopping their power play, especially those 5-on-3s really kept us in the game.”

However, just after a Hamline penalty expired, the Knights were able to score the game’s first goal, as Matt Boyd lifted the puck over Hamline goaltender Beau Christian.

Before the period ended, the Knights would give Hamline a 5-on-3 chance of their own, and coach Scott Bell immediately used his time out to make sure the Pipers were prepared.

“We had some guys who were tired, and I wanted to make sure we had the right guys out there on the power play” said Bell. “You don’t get many good chances against a team like St. Norbert, and I wanted to be able to take advantage of that opportunity.”

The strategy paid off. With the first St. Norbert penalty about to expire, Brian Arrigoni got the puck to the net, and Taylor Vichorek scored to tie the game.

After such a wild period, neither team would commit another penalty until SNC’s hooking call with 33 seconds left in overtime. The Pipers wouldn’t be able to convert, and the game ended in a hard fought 1-1 tie.

Friday’s game against Stevens Point saw the Pipers emerge with a 6-3 win after a penalty riddled game. A major penalty, ejection, four matching minors, and all told more penalty minutes than minutes played marred this game.

“Despite all the penalty minutes, I thought we played disciplined hockey” said Bell. “We easily could have taken some retaliatory penalties and made things harder on ourselves.”

While they don’t play this coming weekend, the Pipers play their first home game of the season the following weekend, opening MIAC conference play with a home-and-home series against St. Mary’s. Last season’s match-up saw Hamline sweep the Cardinals. While they held a commanding advantage in shots on goal, the games were close (4-2 and 7-6 in overtime).

Bell isn’t taking anything for granted.

“We try to come prepared to work” he said. “In this league, if someone doesn’t come to play, they’re most likely going to get beat.”

Last season the Pipers finished the season two points out of second place. Any game has the potential to be the difference between earning home ice in the playoffs and missing the playoffs entirely. The kind of attitude and focus that Bell is trying to instill in his team could turn Hamline into one of the teams to watch for in the MIAC this year.

With conference play looming, we’ll soon find out.

MIAC-NCHA Crossover

Last weekend saw the first weekend of non-conference games between the NCHA and MIAC. While there are a handful of other games between the two conferences in the next few weeks, the next round of league vs. league action doesn’t take place until early January.

While Hamline’s play was a bright spot for the MIAC, the overall results were somewhat disappointing for the league. Last season the NCHA won the inter-conference series with a record of 46-16-2. This season, several MIAC teams were looking to put on a better showing, even though the MIAC was on the road for every game.

The weekend started off promising, with MIAC teams winning three of their seven games on Friday, including Hamline’s win over UW-Stevens Point.

Gustavus Adolphus put in a dominating performance at UW-River Falls, allowing only six shots in the first two periods and ultimately outshooting the Falcons, 37-19.

Despite the shot advantage, this game was a close and hard fought affair. The Gusties played hard the entire game, and came out with a 3-2 win. While it may have been only the second weekend of the year, as the game came down to the wire in front of a loud River Falls crowd, it had all the feel and excitement of a playoff game.

St. John’s also had success against St. Scholastica. Like the Gustavus game against River Falls, the score was close while the shots were not. However unlike the Gusties, the Johnnies were outshot heavily, 53-21.

St. John’s goaltender Tony Civello stood on his head, turning away 52 shots in his first college game while backing the Johnnies to the 3-1 win.

As promising as Friday looked for the league, Saturday was just as
disappointing. Hamline’s tie against St. Norbert was the only game that didn’t end in an NCHA win.

While that sounds bleak, several games were competitive.

Augsburg lost 1-0 at UW-River Falls, Bethel lost 5-4 at UW-Stevens Point, and Concordia (MN) lost 4-3 at St. Scholastica.

Except for St. Mary’s, this weekend saw every team in the MIAC either win or lose a game by one goal. When home ice is reversed in January, some of these results will likely be reversed as well.

While a 3-10-1 mark on the weekend may seem disappointing, there was still a lot gained. Many coaches look forward to these games as a gauge to see how they compare to some elite teams (four of the NCHA’s seven teams were in the top 15 in the most recent USCHO.com Division III poll.) Some also treat them as true non-conference games; as a chance to try out new things and get playing time for some players who might not normally see much ice time.

After Gustavus’s win over River Falls, coach Brett Peterson said “the main point is to come out and play hard. I feel we played hard all game, and we had a lot of contributions from players who normally might not see much ice time. Tomorrow at Eau Claire we’ll put out an entirely different lineup.”

That said, no coach in this league will tolerate a team going into a game expecting to lose.

“I will not accept losing” said Augsburg coach Chris Brown, following their 1-0 defeat at the hands of UW-River Falls. “Knowing we played hard all game long helps, and I think if we play that way all season we’ll get more than our share of wins, but it’s always tough to take a loss.”

So while the results as a whole from this past weekend may not look astonishing, they’re not as bad as they seem. And with the crossover finished until January, teams can turn their focus to the games that matter the most as conference play starts up.

Let The Season Begin!

With the first two weekends of non conference games out of the way, the season really begins for the MIAC teams this Friday and Saturday as league play starts up. Because the MIAC has nine schools, one team (Hamline) has the weekend off while the other eight teams have two game series against each. St. Mary’s and Concordia MN play two games at Concordia, while the other three series this weekend are home and home.

Hopefully everyone’s shaken off the rust and worked out any kinks, because at the end of the season one loss can mean the difference between being in the playoffs or sitting in the stands.

If the start of the MIAC season wasn’t big enough, this weekend has its share of interesting matchups to boot.

Gustavus Adolphus faces off against St. Olaf while St.Thomas goes against Augsburg. All four of these teams were in the playoffs last season and are looking to start this year off strong.

The other four teams in action all missed out on the playoffs last season and will be looking to jump out of the gate and get some points early on. St. Mary’s and Concordia (MN) face each other in a battle of second year coaches. Both St. Mary’s coach Bill Moore and Concordia coach Chris Howe have focused on getting their teams to play hard consistently for 60 minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against each other as they try to climb up the MIAC ladder.

The last matchup of the weekend is Bethel vs. St. John’s. Bethel comes into this weekend looking for their first win of the season, and after four games on the road (including two one goal losses), the Royals are hoping to get things going in their first home game of the season on Friday.

Across the ice, St. John’s will be looking to build on their results from last weekend. St. John’s had a tough weekend, going on the road to face St. Scholastica and UW-Superior, both of whom made the NCAA tournament last season. The Johnnies beat Scholastica on Friday before losing to Superior the following day. After splitting against such tough competition, St. John’s is hoping to keep playing at that same intensity now that they’re playing games that count the most.

With the league in full swing and the race for the conference title looking as wide open as ever, hopefully this weekend will give us some answers on which teams are ready to step up and which teams still have some work left to do.

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