Checking Back In
When we last looked in on the MIAC, it was still two weeks before Christmas. Since then, several games have been played, and more big matchups are looming next weekend.
Coming into their series against the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), St. Thomas had lost four games in a row. Over that stretch the Tommies had only been able to muster three goals while giving up 17.
When asked if he was going to focus on trying anything new on defense or offense, head coach Terry Skrypek made it clear he was focused on one thing only.
â€œWeâ€™re going out there to try to win, he said. â€œWeâ€™re on a bit of a bad streak right now, and the most important thing is to go out there and break it, and get back into a winning mindset.â€
The Tommies did indeed break their losing streak in the first game, winning 3-2 in a game they never trailed, despite being outshot by MSOE. On Saturday, St. Thomas again were never behind, but had to settle for a 2-2 tie after a third period power-play goal for MSOE evened things up.
It was certainly a good time for the Tommies to get back on track, as this coming weekend they host the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and UW-Eau Claire as the MIAC finishes its crossover series with the NCHA.
One of the more intriguing series over the winter break was St. Maryâ€™s heading out to Rhode Island to participate in the Bison Classic. The Cardinals faced off against host Nichols in the opening game on Saturday, and saw themselves down 4-1 after two periods.
The Cardinals scored a shorthanded goal just 20 seconds into the third period, followed by another tally just three minutes later, and were suddenly down only 4-3.
With just under five minutes left, Anthony Bohn scored his third goal of the year and knotted the score at four. Neither team was able to score in the remainder of the third period nor overtime and the game officially ended as a 4-4 tie. But since this was a tournament, the game then went on to a shootout, with St. Maryâ€™s winning, 1-0.
In Sundayâ€™s title game St. Maryâ€™s were up against another group of Cardinals in Wesleyan University. Despite being outshot over the first two periods, St. Maryâ€™s entered the third period with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately, Wesleyan would dominate the third period on the scoreboard, scoring three times to take a 4-3 lead before scoring an empty netter to seal the game and win the tournament.
Despite the disappointing finish, St. Maryâ€™s has to be pleased with how they performed at the tournament, and hopefully can continue to challenge teams when they return to MIAC play. While their 1-9-1 record may not look pretty, they are only three points out from a playoff spot, and with some hard play, can still bring themselves into the thick of the playoff hunt down the stretch.
The biggest series over the break was easily Adrianâ€™s visit to Hamline.
Now in their third year of existence, the Adrian Bulldogs had amassed a stunning 63-4-1 overall record and had won all 10 of their games this season. The Pipers came in with a very respectable 8-1-2 record, and were riding a 10 game unbeaten streak.
Itâ€™s rare that I have absolutely no idea what to expect, especially when Iâ€™ve seen one of the teams play several times already this season. But coming into this series I had almost no idea what was going to happen. Iâ€™d never seen Adrian play, although I knew they could be explosive offensively as they were averaging a ridiculous 8.20 goals per game.
It ended up being a hard fought series that rarely saw a lull in the action.
Both teams came out skating fast and focused, and the goals followed. Adrian did indeed end up living up to their billing as an offensive powerhouse.
They were extremely quick in breaking out of their own zone, did a great job both creating and using open space, and generated scoring chances out of what appeared to be nothing. Conversely, Hamline came out playing their solid brand of team defense, skating hard, cycling the puck in the Adrian zone, and were backed up with outstanding goaltending.
Nearing the end of the second period in Fridayâ€™s game, Adrian held a 4-2 lead, and it looked like it would be a tough road for the Pipers to come back in tie the game. But in a span of just 36 seconds, Hamline scored twice to even things up. Both goals were in the final minute of the period, and despite outshooting Hamline 32-15 over two periods, Adrian would have to settle for a tie going into the third period.
Spencer Anderson was playing his first game as a Piper, and his first goal of the season was a big one. Seven minutes into the third period, he found the back of the net, giving Hamline their first lead since the game was 1-0. Hamline scored again to go up 6-4, and was able to withstand a furious charge from Adrian and win 6-5.
Saturdayâ€™s matchup started off the same way as Friday, with Hamline jumping out to a 1-0 lead. However unlike on Friday, the Pipers were able to add to the lead, and held a 3-0 advantage in the closing minutes of the first period. A bad defensive turnover led to Eric Miller scoring for Adrian in the final minute of the period, and the teams would head to the locker rooms with Hamline leading 3-1.
The first goal of the second period went to Adrian, and suddenly what looked like a blowout was suddenly a contested affair again. Hamline would go up 4-2 on a power- play goal, but Adrian would come storming back with a shorthanded tally near the end of the period, and we would head to the third with Hamline up only 4-3.
On Friday the game was tied 4-4 after two periods, and Hamline ended up winning 6-5. On Saturday, the Pipers again won the third period, this time scoring three unanswered goals en route to a 7-3 win.
The biggest difference between these two teams was in net. While the numbers may not look pretty, Hamline goaltender Beau Christian put in a great performance, making several incredible saves to rob Adrian of sure goals, while doing a good job of controlling rebounds and smothering shots to slow things down. On the other end, Brad Fogal played well at times, but let in a few questionable goals, and was temporarily pulled on Saturday after Hamlineâ€™s third goal.
When asked about his performance, Christian gave all the credit to his defense.
â€œItâ€™s great playing behind a defense like this,â€ he said. â€œThey do a great job of letting me see shots and clearing out rebounds when I need them to.â€
Hamlineâ€™s team defense is tough to crack, as all players do their share of backchecking, tying up sticks, and keeping shots outside.
If the Pipers can keep playing like this to finish out the season, they have a shot to be one of the top teams in the western region come playoff time.
MIAC-NCHA Crossover . . . Round Two
For most fans, itâ€™s been a long few weeks without D-III hockey, but the winter break is drawing to an end and it is time to drop the puck for the second half of the season.
Coming into this weekend, the NCHA holds a record of 12-4-1 against the MIAC. Fourteen more games are on the schedule for this coming weekend, with MIAC squads hosting every game. Below is a preview of the interesting storylines and matchups coming on the horizon.
Both River Falls and St. Thomas started off the year well, with records of 5-1-1 and 4-1-2, respectively. Since then, both have struggled. Both teams are 2-4-0 in their last six games, and have seen their records slip to around .500.
After this weekend, both teams only have conference games left, so this is their last chance to right the ship before the games carry much more weight. These two teams meet on Friday, with no chance to shake off any rust from the winter break. With both teams looking to start off the second semester on the right foot, look for both of them to come out playing hard.
Fresh off their matchup with Adrian, there is no letup for Hamline, as they face off against St. Scholastica, the NCHAâ€™s second place team, followed up with a game against UW-Superior, who currently sits in last place in the conference despite an overall record of 7-5-1. If the Pipers can sweep the weekend, they will have the best record of any team in the west, and will be in any discussion of the top team in the region.
It will be a tough task for them, however, as Scholastica has a record of 8-2-2 and is solid in all three zones. Superior is perennially a top team in the NCHA, and despite their spot in the standings, should give Hamline a tough game. Will the Pipers be worn out emotionally following their back-to-back victories over Adrian? Or will they be pumped up and ready to play their best?
Augsburg and Gustavus Adolphus each play one game against the NCHA, and both games are against UW-Stout. Stout has had an up-and-down season following their run to the NCAA semifinals last year. They lost their first two games to St. Norbert before going on a six game unbeaten streak. That streak ended very quickly when Stout went east to face Norwich and Middlebury, losing 9-1 and 7-3. Since that terrible weekend, Stout has gone 2-1-1, and may have returned to their winning form.
After their hot start, Augsburg hit a cold stretch themselves, but has quietly put together a five game winning streak to bring their record to 7-3-1.
Their matchup with Stout will test their defense, as well as the depth of their team. The Blue Devils have one of the best first lines in the region, and they can explode offensively at almost any time.
If Augsburg can bottle up that top line and play the game at their own pace, they have a good chance to win. If Stout can turn the game into a back-and-forth shootout, though, this game could get out of hand in a hurry.
Stoutâ€™s matchup against Gustavus will also be interesting to see. Gustavus likes to play a style that generates odd man rushes for themselves, but without sacrificing much on defense. The Gusties donâ€™t rely solely on those rushes for their offense as they can also cycle and maintain offensive zone possession for long stretches of time, and generate chances that way.
The keys to this game will include how the Gustavus cycle does against Stoutâ€™s size and speed and whether the Gusties will be able to generate odd man rushes without giving up too many for Stout. If the Blue Devils end up turning this into a wide open game, the Blue Devilâ€™s finishing ability may be too much for the Gustavus defense to handle.
After these contests, the vast majority of games will be of the conference variety. This is by-and-large everyoneâ€™s last chance to try something new, shake off any rust, and get ready for the home stretch. Regardless of the outcomes, this weekend will showcase some exciting teams and great hockey.