Familiar foes

A pivotal battle for first place in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference features familiar foes who have a habit of crashing each other’s party.

This weekend, No. 6 Gustavus Adolphus faces first-place St. Thomas, a team that upset Gustavus in last season’s MIAC championship game, only to see the Gusties beat the Tommies in the NCAA’s first round. The Gusties also closed the curtain on the Tommies’ 2008-09 campaign, beating them in the MIAC semifinals.

The Tommies (6-3, 3-1 MIAC)  travel to play the second-place Gusties (6-2-1, 2-1-1) on Friday. The rivals play the return leg Saturday at St. Thomas.

“They’ve ended our season the last couple of years and, hopefully, our veterans remember that,” St. Thomas coach Jeff Boeser. “We have the utmost respect for Gustavus.”

Gustavus coach Brett Petersen doesn’t think there will be any carryover from last season’s memorable tussles. One reason is the Gusties graduated 11 seniors — including NCAA D-III Player of the Year David Martison — from last season’s team.

“Seventy-percent of our roster has no idea of what happened last year,” said Petersen, referring to the team’s 11 freshmen. “So, we’ve completely moved on.”

The Gusties come into the weekend after a 10-day layoff while the Tommies are fresh from an 8-6 victory over nonconference foe Wisconsin-Superior Nov. 27. Center Andrew Kappers scored a goal and added four assists in the win.

St. Thomas’ freshman standout goalie Geoff Sadjadi (5-3, 2.39 goals-against average, .903 save-percentage) was pulled four minutes into the second period after surrendering four goals. Tyrone Simcoe came in to earn the win.

Sadjadi remains the Tommies’ No. 1 netminder, Boeser said.

“He’s played every minute up to this point and he’s a freshman,”  Boeser said. “You forget that they are human and mentally he was probably beaten up a bit. The guys picked him up. Our second goaltender came in and did a nice job.”

Junior Ross Ring-Jarvi led the Gusties offensively with three goals and seven assists for 10 points. Though 19 players have at least registered a point, a dearth of goals remains a concern. In nine contests, the Gusties have outscored opponents, 29-21, while averaging 3.2 goals a game.

The lack of production has been offset by stellar goaltending by senior Josh Swartout (3-2-1, 2.81 GAA, .907 save pct.) and sophomore Tyler Venne (3-0, 1.00 GAA, .958 save pct.).

“We have received consistent goaltending from both of our goalies, which is important,” Petersen said. “So far, it’s been a collaborative effort. It’s been different guys chipping in on different nights.”

Big House Bound
This Saturday’s Frozen Faceoff featuring No. 9 Adrian and Concordia is likely to be 100,000 folks or so short of a sellout, but the outdoor game at 109,901-capacity Michigan Stadium will be a monumental event in D-III men’s hockey circles.

Organizers want to break the D-III attendance record of 5,600, which was set in an NCAA semifinal between Plattsburgh and Elmira in Lake Placid, N.Y., on March 22, 2008. Saturday’s contest is billed as the first outdoor D-III hockey game in the modern era.

The Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association tilt starts at 9:30 a.m. with the first 5,601 receiving a toque winter cap. The morning time slot was the only time available, Fogarty said.

“In the end, if one person shows up or 10,000, it’s an unbelievable experience for Adrian and Concordia,” Adrian Coach Ron Fogarty said. “We’re excited.”

Since  October, Adrian officials have been busy promoting the first-ever event. The game came about after Adrian contacted University of Michigan officials a year ago shortly after the school announced the Big Chill, which features intrastate rivals UM and Michigan State on Dec. 11.

To help with the hype, the National Hockey League Detroit Red Wings invited 40 Adrian team members to promote the contest during their Nov. 28 game against Columbus.

Organizers passed out fliers in the Joe Louis Arena concourse and while the upcoming event was announced on the PA during the Red Wings-Blue Jackets contest. Fogarty was also interviewed between periods on the arena’s projection scoreboard.

“(The Red Wings) have done an unbelievable job in helping grow Michigan hockey,” Fogarty said.

The Frozen Faceoff is also part of an overall strategy to promote the game within the state’s D-III college community, Fogarty said.

Adrian and Finlandia are the only two D-III schools with NCAA men’s hockey programs. In nonhockey sports, Adrian is part of the nine-member Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

A number of MIAA schools have thriving club hockey programs.

“That’s been our president’s (Jeffrey Docking) thrust: He wants to see more Division III teams in Michigan,” Fogarty said. “We’d like to see an MIAA hockey league. It would be phenomenal.”

Players of the Week

MIAC: Andrew Kappers, St. Thomas. The 5-foot-10 senior forward went on a five-point tear to lead the Tommies to a 8-6 victory over Wisconsin-Superior Nov. 27.  Kappers’ second goal of the season put St. Thomas up 6-4 in the second period while his four assists brought his season total to 10, which is tied for most in D-III.

Shawn Skelly, Adrian. The burly 5-10 senior reaped Offensive MVP honors with three goals and two assists in the Hackett Builders Thanksgiving Showcase Nov. 26-27. In the No. 9 Bulldogs’ 4-1 win over No. 12 Hamline Saturday, the former NAHL Bismark Bobcats player assisted on Shawn Courtney’s game-winning goal in the second period and then scored twice in the final frame.

Michael Baldino, Lawrence. The sophomore netminder collected his first career win and backstopped the Vikings to their first-ever victory over St. Scholastica, 4-2, Nov. 26. The 5-foot-7 Woburn, Mass. Milton Academy  product stopped 33 of 35 shots while spotting Vikings’ Tregular starter Evan Johnson in Lawrence’s sixth victory of the season.