This Week in MIAC: Nov. 19, 2009

Weekend Roundup

If anyone had any doubts as to how wide open the MIAC is this season, the opening weekend of conference play dispelled them. Only one team managed to win both games this weekend and of the eight games played only two were decided by more than two goals.

Bethel topped St. John’s 5-3 on Friday in a close game. The Royals scored three third period goals, including an empty netter, to close out their first win of the season.

Before the season, Bethel coach Joel Johnson said his team would be relying more on a scoring by committee approach. His team followed through with that on Friday as four different players lit the lamp for the Royals in their first home game.

On Saturday, the series shifted to St. John’s, where the Johnnies held a sizeable shot advantage throughout the game. Despite being outgunned 23-13 through two periods, the Royals held a 2-1 lead. Although the third period was filled with action, the only scoring would come on an empty netter to seal the 3-1 win for Bethel, giving them sole possession of first place. Fittingly, three different players scored for the Royals in the game.

Augsburg faced off against St. Thomas on Friday hoping to end their two game shutout sweep, which the Auggies faced against NCHA opponents UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls. However, the Tommies would spoil Augsburg’s home opener with a 3-0 defeat.

St. Thomas scored a goal in each period, and never really let Augsburg get into the game, despite shots being relatively even. The Auggies went 0-4 on the power play, continuing what has to be a disappointing trend for the team.

On Saturday the scoreless streak, as well as the disappointment on the power play, would evaporate. The Auggies came out playing hard and physical, and at the end of the second period, they held a 3-0 lead on the strength of three power-play goals. The third period though, would see the Tommies come roaring back in front of their home crowd, and eventually tie the game in the final minute. That late goal would propel St. Thomas into a tie for second place in the league after their three point weekend. Conversely, it would also knock the Auggies into a tie for sixth place with one point.

St. Mary’s traveled to Concordia (MN) in a meeting of two young teams. Both St. Mary’s coach Bill Moore and Concordia’s coach Chris Howe have tried to focus on getting their teams to put out a full effort for 60 minutes, as well as to be more consistent in their play.

On Friday, St. Mary’s would outshoot Concordia heavily, but while the Cardinals may have controlled play, the Cobbers took advantage of their chances and were able to skate away with a 6-3 victory. This marked the most goals scored by Concordia against D-III competition since the 2006-2007 season.

This game was a wild affair, with two power-play goals for each team and a shorthanded goal thrown in for good measure. Despite all the special teams play, there were 13 combined penalties in the game, good for 26 minutes.

On Saturday, the story would be almost the exact opposite. Concordia would be the team controlling play, outshooting the Cardinals 43-30, yet it would be St. Mary’s scoring two quick goals in the third period to open up a 3-0 lead. Concordia would get a goal back halfway through the period, but that would be it for the scoring as St. Mary’s would earn the 3-1 win. While no goals were scored on the power play this time, the teams ended up committing 22 penalties for 63 minutes.

St. Olaf and Gustavus Adolphus faced off for what looked to be the marquee matchup coming into the weekend. Friday was a game of two halves, with the Gusties starting off strong, and coming up with leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, only to see St. Olaf battle back each time. After a furious charge in the third period, the Oles would tie the game at 3-3 late in regulation. Neither team would be able to score in overtime, and the game ended in a tie.

While fans of both teams might be left wondering what would have happened if the Gusties had been able to keep up their pressure for three periods instead of two — or if the Oles had been able to control play early on instead of mostly in the third period — the game ended up being evenly played on the ice, and fittingly the score reflected that.

Saturday’s game at Gustavus ended up being a wild one. Gustavus would control shots on goal, leading 25-13 after two periods, and 30-19 for the game, but Gustavus would be the one facing deficits of 2-1 and 3-2 early on, with David Martinson scoring each time to tie the game up,

In the third period, Martinson stole the show, scoring four minutes in to give the Gusties a 4-3 lead, and scoring shorthanded a few minutes later to make it 5-4. After the Oles scored to close it to 5-4, the Gusties would be able to hold them off the rest of the way to come out of the weekend with fourth place, and tied with St. Thomas for second place in the MIAC.

Coming Up Next

This coming weekend again sees eight of the nine MIAC teams playing conference games. With an odd number of league members, one school misses out on conference games each weekend. This weekend sees Augsburg instead has two games scheduled against MCHA opponent Concordia (WI).

Hamline was the last team out this past weekend, and the Pipers jump into their conference schedule with a home-and-home series against St. Mary’s. Hamline was the only MIAC team not to lose against the NCHA when the two conferences faced off two weeks ago, winning 6-3 at UW Stevens Point, and skating to a 1-1 tie at St. Norbert, the nation’s top team according to the USCHO DIII Poll.

The Cardinals will need to find some consistency if they want to come out of this weekend with a win. Hamline can move the puck well and, if given room to skate, can be relentless in turning defensive breakouts into odd man rushes.

After spending last weekend at home, Concordia (MN) heads to the road for two games at St. Olaf. This will be a tough test for the Cobbers, as they face off against last season’s MIAC regular season champions.

The Oles are a balanced team that is smart with the puck, goes from defense to offense quickly, and doesn’t have many weaknesses. Concordia will have to work hard for both games to be able to stop St. Olaf’s attack, and they’ll have to work to create their own chances, as the Oles are not a team that shoots themselves in the foot.

These two teams met at the MIAC Showcase during the season’s opening weekend, although it did not count towards the conference standings. St. Olaf came away with a 5-2 win in that game, scoring two shorthanded goals in the second period to basically put the game away. The Cobbers didn’t go quietly though, scoring twice in the final frame to cut it to 4-2 before an empty netter ended things.

While the Cobbers will likely try to come out playing harder and smarter this time around, the Oles are a tough team anywhere they play, let alone at home. Last season they went undefeated in their own barn, scoring almost twice as many goals as they gave up.

When Bethel and Gustavus Adolphus met in the MIAC Showcase, it was a mismatch on paper. The Gusties went to the NCAA championship game last season while the Royals finished seventh in the MIAC, missing out on the playoffs by three points. Yet in the third period, it was the Royals who were up 3-1 behind two power-play goals. In the end though, Gustavus was able to score three straight times to escape with a 4-3 victory.

If the Royals learned that they need to play hard for the full game in order to come away with a victory, they have a chance to get some points this weekend. But if the Gusties learned that they also need to play hard, and not overlook any opponents, then their speed and quick puck movement may be more than Bethel can handle.

This weekend’s biggest matchup is a classic rivalry game as St. Thomas and St. John’s play faceoff. When these teams met in the MIAC Showcase, they finished with a 1-1 tie. St. John’s led until late in the third period, when the Tommies were able to convert on their eighth power-play chance to tie it up.

St. Thomas will be looking to build on their three point weekend against Augsburg, while St. Johns will be looking to move past their weekend sweep at the hands of Bethel. Another sweep will dig a big hole for the Johnnies to get out of in order to make the playoffs, while another big weekend of the Tommies could see them move into first place.

Turkey Time

With Thanksgiving coming up, my next column will not be until the first week in December. So, before finishing up here, it’s time to take a look at what the MIAC will be up to while you’re hopefully spending time with friends and family…and lots of turkey.

Some teams will be taking the week off. After their upcoming games against Concordia (WI), Augsburg takes the weekend off. Like Augsburg, Gustavus Adolphus and St. Mary’s will be off until December after their games this weekend.

While Bethel also takes off Thanksgiving weekend, the Royals start early when they host UW River Falls on Tuesday, Dec. 1, before jumping back into conference games the following weekend.

If you’re up for some hockey before the holiday, you’re in luck as Hamline hosts UW-Eau Claire the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Eau Claire has looked impressive against the MIAC so far, shutting out Augsburg and beating Gustavus Adolphus 3-1 earlier in the season. Hamline will be putting their undefeated record against NCHA opponents on the line in this one.

If you’re looking to get out and work off some of the stuffing and biscuits after Thanksgiving, you do have some MIAC options open. Four teams will be playing the weekend following Thanksgiving, although only one will be at home.

St. Thomas hosts UW-Superior in the only game that will be played in Minnesota that weekend. The Yellowjackets were the NCHA’s regular season champions last season, and after a rough start to the season seem to have gotten the rust off, outscoring their last three opponents by an average of four goals.

St. Olaf plays two games that weekend, but will head to Illinois to play against Lake Forest. This is Lake Forest’s first year in the MCHA, following their 5-20-2 season in the NCHA last year. When they played last year, St. Olaf won 7-1 while putting 63 shots on net.

The most intriguing MIAC action after Thanksgiving unfortunately occurs over 600 miles from the Twin Cities, as both Concordia (MN) and St. John’s head to Michigan for Adrian College’s Thanksgiving Tournament. Concordia has an especially busy week, as they host Northland the previous Monday before hitting the road.

While it is labeled a tournament, it does not have a true tournament format. Instead of the winners of Friday’s games playing on Saturday, the event has fixed matchups for both days, with both Concordia and St. John’s playing fifth ranked Adrian and Buffalo State.

Buffalo State is currently 1-5-1, and will face fellow SUNYAC foes Plattsburgh (ranked third nationally) and Potsdam this weekend. They will play Concordia on the Friday following Thanksgiving before playing St. John’s on Saturday. The Johnnies have a very tough game facing them on Friday. Adrian is 4-0 this season, which is only the third season their hockey team has been in existence. However, in that short time, they have amassed an amazing record of 57-4-1. Their only loss last season was against Neumann, the eventual national champions.

This tournament will give these MIAC teams a chance to face some competition they normally wouldn’t be likely to face, as well as a chance to gauge themselves against one of the western region’s elite teams.

If you happen to be in Michigan for the holiday, I highly recommend you check out this tournament if you have the chance. Adrian has had very few chances to face competition against the MIAC or NCHA, so it will be interesting to see how they fare. Besides, it’s Thanksgiving hockey, it should definitely be more fun than watching the Lions or Raiders from your couch.

Hopefully you have a great Thanksgiving no matter what you end up doing, and I’ll see you back here the first week in December.

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