Push for the Playoffs
After last weekend, there are three weeks left in the MIAC schedule. With the season nearing its conclusion, in some leagues this would be the time of year when the playoff picture is becoming clearer and teams are left jockeying for positioning. In the MIAC though, where only five teams make the playoffs, the picture is anything but clear. The parity in this league becomes more and more apparent each week, and the door is still open for teams to make late pushes to secure a playoff spot. With that in mind, lets take a look at last weekendâ€™s action, and what each team has left to do to secure a playoff spot.
Bethel vs. St. Olaf
This was my series of the week, as the Royals are fighting to hold on to their playoff position while the Oles are trying to claw their way up the standings. A sweep would have been huge for either team, and both came out playing hard on Friday at Bethel.
St. Olaf scored first, but Bethel tallied three goals before the end of the first period, staking them to a 3-1 lead. The Oles were able to keep it close, but were never able to tie the score en route to a 5-3 win for Bethel.
Bethel coach Joel Johnson was proud of the way his team played, especially since it gave his team a chance to capitalize on the weekend.
â€œObviously winning the first game is huge,â€ said Johnson. â€œNot only is it good for our confidence and for building momentum, but it gives us a chance to take three or four points and have a really good weekend.â€
The Royals werenâ€™t able to gain any more points on Saturday though, as the Oles capitalized at home. While the Oles looked somewhat hesitant on Friday, they were able to apply a lot more pressure on Saturday, outshooting the Royals 30-14 over the final two periods.
Despite that shot advantage, though, St. Olaf never held a two goal lead, and scored the game-winning goal with less than three minutes remaining. Regardless of how it came to pass, the most important thing for them was to come away with the 4-3 victory.
Like most series, this had the potential to clear up the playoff picture.
However with a split, more teams became jammed in the middle of the standings. For Bethel, the split keeps them in third place, although itâ€™s looking less likely that theyâ€™ll be able to catch Hamline or Gustavus Adolphus for one of the top two spots. The Royals have four games left to play while the teams above them have six remaining. Bethel has also played those teams already, so they canâ€™t gain any ground in a head to head matchup.
The good news, however, is that even though they donâ€™t play this week, itâ€™s impossible for them to fall out of the top five, regardless of what happens this weekend. The last two weekends are huge for Bethel as they take on St. Thomas and Augsburg, both of whom are fighting to make the playoffs. If the Royals split those series, odds are theyâ€™ll make the playoffs. Taking more than four points from those games would pretty much guarantee them a playoff spot, and possibly a home playoff game as well.
For St. Olaf, theyâ€™re currently sitting in sixth place and would be the first team out if the playoffs started today.
The good news for them is that they have six games left to play while Concordia (MN) and St. Thomas both have only four games left. Both those teams are only two points ahead of the Oles, so one win (or two ties) on their bye weeks is all it could take for St. Olaf to tie them. The Oles have a big series this weekend with St. Thomas, a huge opportunity for either team to put themselves firmly in the playoff picture.
St. Thomas vs. St. Maryâ€™s
This was the only sweep of the weekend, as St. Thomas won 4-3 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday. Fridayâ€™s game was as close as the score indicated, as the Tommies scored twice in the third period to come from behind and win. On Saturday, the result wasnâ€™t in question for too long, as St. Thomas outshot the Cardinals 41-23 and led 3-0 after the second period.
The sweep couldnâ€™t have come at a better time for the Tommies. They started the season off slow, and had been struggling in the bottom half of the standings for some time now. These two wins vaulted them into a tie with Concordia for fourth place in the standings, two points ahead of St. Olaf in sixth.
Thatâ€™s the good news. The bad news is that the Tommies have a bye the final week of the season. That means theyâ€™ll have to do enough to make the playoffs over the next two weeks, and hope they donâ€™t get left out while sitting idle.
After facing St. Olaf this weekend, the Tommies play Bethel to close out their season. Three wins in those four games should be enough to put the Tommies in the postseason. Conversely, three losses would leave their playoff hopes clinging to life support. The Tommies need to go out and play hard for all four games, without focusing on anything other than working hard every single shift.
St. Maryâ€™s, on the other hand, is effectively eliminated from the playoffs. If they win out, they have a shot to make the playoffs, depending on what happens in other games. However, with a 1-9-0 league record (and 1-17-1 overall) that does not seem likely. The Cardinals are still improved over last yearâ€™s team, and focusing on getting better each game to finish the season is a good goal. Series against Augsburg and Gustavus give St. Maryâ€™s a chance to play spoiler, as well.
Hamline vs. Augsburg
If you wanted an example of the parity in the MIAC this season, this series is a good example. Augsburg is currently in seventh place, although they trail St. Olaf by only one point, and are only three points out of the final playoff spot. Tenth ranked Hamline came into this series with a chance to take over first place while Gustavus was idle.
Friday nightâ€™s matchup turned out to be the game of the week in the MIAC.
Augsburg roared out to a 4-0 lead before the middle of the second period. Hamline was able to mount a furious comeback, and tied the game in dramatic fashion, scoring with seven seconds left, on the power play, with their goaltender pulled. While some teams may have been demoralized by giving away a four goal lead, Augsburg scored on their first shot in overtime, netting the game winner just over one minute into the extra stanza.
Saturdayâ€™s game would similar a somewhat similar storyline, but in reverse. This time Hamline would come out with a 2-0 lead after the first period, only to have the Auggies tie it in the second. The lone goal in the third period would go to Hamline, who skated off with a 3-2 win, salvaging a split on the weekend.
Augsburgâ€™s problem this season is a lack of big weekends.
While theyâ€™ve only been swept once, Augsburg has only had one weekend where theyâ€™ve garnered more than two points. Thatâ€™s going to have to change over the final three weeks if they want to make the playoffs. This team has the offensive tools and the goaltending to go on a hot streak, but it seems they havenâ€™t been able to put it all together. At times the offense looks extremely dangerous, the power play is clicking, and the goaltending is solid. And at other times one or more of those key facets seem to disappear.
A sweep of St. Maryâ€™s this weekend would bring the Auggies one point behind Bethel in the standings. Thereâ€™s also the possibility that Augsburg would jump either St. Olaf or St. Thomas, depending on what happens when those two teams play this weekend. This would set up a wild ride for the finish, as Augsburgâ€™s final two opponents are St. Olaf and Bethel.
For No. 10 Hamline, the loss on Friday meant they no longer had a chance to gain first place this weekend. They still have a shot to take that spot in two weeks when they have their series against Gustavus Adolphus. In between the Gusties and Hamline are two games against St. Johnâ€™s, though, and while theyâ€™re having a down year, the Johnnies are no pushovers. The past two weeks have seen Hamline come out slow on Friday, and theyâ€™ve lost both games. Sloppy or lazy play against St. Johnâ€™s tends to end with the puck in the back of your net.
Things are still looking pretty good for the Pipers, however.
They control their own destiny for where they finish in the league, and even two wins in their last six games should be enough to see them into the playoffs. While that may not be how Hamline would like to enter the playoffs, with so many teams fighting for those five spots, itâ€™s still an enviable position to be in. Last year, this team came within one game of making the NCAA tournament, losing to Gustavus in the conference championship. Look for them to be willing to do whatever it takes to get back and have a second chance at that coveted conference championship.
St. Johnâ€™s vs. Concordia (MN)
Speaking of the Johnnies, this season has had its share of ups and downs for them.
They beat St. Scholastica (ranked fourth in the USCHO.com Division III men’s poll), 3-1, earlier this year and defeated Buffalo State 5-4 at Adrianâ€™s tournament. However, the Johnnies havenâ€™t really been able to get things going in league games, posting a 1-6-1 record coming into last weekend. Despite being heavily outshot by Concordia on Friday, the Johnnies were able to capitalize on their opportunities and skate away with a 7-2 victory. Saturday saw a much more even game. Concordia scored six minutes into the game, St. Johnâ€™s scored nine minutes later, and that would be it, as the teams skated to a 1-1 tie.
While the Johnnies still have a shot at the playoffs, they will pretty much have to win their final six games to do so, while hoping that St. Thomas, Augsburg, and Concordia donâ€™t win any more games. Itâ€™s possible, but it looks like theyâ€™ll l fall a few points short of making the playoffs.
A big weekend from Concordia may have been enough for them to make the playoffs, but a one point weekend puts them in a poor spot. Theyâ€™d make the playoffs if the season ended today, but with four games remaining, there arenâ€™t too many opportunities left for the Cobbers to shore up their position. To make matters worse, their final two games are against the top two teams in the league. Still, the Cobbers have played a tough non-conference schedule this season, and have faced top teams before. If they can come out of these final few weeks with enough points to make the playoffs, this is a team that could potentially make a run at the championship.
The nationally eighth ranked Gusties were idle this past weekend, but they still managed to have a good go of things. Hamlineâ€™s loss to Augsburg kept Gustavus atop the MIAC standings, although they hold a slim one point lead. They host Concordia for two games this weekend before their huge series against Hamline, and finish the season out with two games against St. Maryâ€™s.
The Gusties know what it takes to win a championship, as they won the MIAC playoffs last season and made a run to the national title game. They should also know that any opponent can be dangerous, and wonâ€™t be counting on any easy victories. Like most other MIAC teams, they control their own destiny, and a strong finish to the season could see them claim the regular season championship and home ice for the playoffs.
The MIAC regular season champion hasnâ€™t won the league playoffs since 2007, when Bethel swept both en route to the NCAAâ€™s … Gustavusâ€™s David Martinson leads the league in scoring with 33 points, the only other player within 10 points of him is teammate Ross Ring-Jarvi with 27 … Martinsonâ€™s 20 goals lead all of Division III, and he is the only player averaging over one goal per game … Bethelâ€™s Jack Paul leads MIAC rookies in scoring, with 22 points in 21 games … Hamline has the nationâ€™s ninth best power play, clipping along at 23.8%.