The Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association has already produced a few first-half surprises this season. Here is a mid-term look at five developments to keep an eye on as the season resumes.
Milwaukee School of Engineering’s invincibility
The No. 9 Raiders stormed out of the gate by winning nine of their first 10 games, which was highlighted by a weekend sweep of Marian in a home-and-home tussle Nov. 13-14. MSOE, which was picked to finish third in a preseason MCHA coaches’ poll, shot up from No. 15 to No. 8 (before dropping back to No. 9) in the USCHO Division III Men’s Poll. Sophomore Jordan Keizer (14 goals and 5 assists for 19 points) has been on a goal-scoring tear, leading the nation with 1.50 goals per game. The team’s unsung penalty kill – first in the nation at 93.8 percent – is a one reason for the success. Though a 2-1 loss to No. 15 St. Thomas on Dec. 10 brought the Raiders back to earth, they responded with a 5-4 victory over the Tommies the next day. Standout goalie Connor Toomey (8-1, 1.55 goals-against, .933 save-percentage) will have a large say whether the Raiders maintain their torrid pace.
The No. 7 Bulldogs saw their 30-game home winning streak snapped by MCHA arch-rival Marian on Nov. 6. The 5-4 setback was the first at Arrington Ice Arena since Nov. 1, 2008, when Adrian lost 4-2 to Neumann College. More remarkable, the loss was Adrian’s first in MCHA play in 56 regular-season games, dating back to Nov. 30, 2007, when the Sabres beat the Bulldogs, 7-5, in Fond du Lac, Wis. After those streaks were broken, the Bulldogs dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which caused a few palpitations among the Bulldogs faithful. The team appears to have eradicated its early season malaise by reeling off four-straight victories, including a 3-0 result over Concordia (Wis.) in a milestone outdoor game at Michigan Stadium Dec. 4.
With eight players in double-figures scoring, led by senior Brendan Hull’s 20 points on nine goals and 11 assists, Marian should seemingly have more to show than a 9-5 overall record. The team’s 4-1 start included a key 5-4 victory over Adrian on Nov. 6 after losing the series’ opener the previous night. After a pivotal win over the Bulldogs though, the Sabres dropped four of their next five games. Marian appeared to have regained its footing by putting together a four-game winning streak – starting with a 10-2 rout over Lawrence on Dec. 3 - before the holiday break. Freshman goalie Josh Baker (4-3, 2.83 GAA, .920 save-pct.) started in three of four of those victories, adding another twist in Coach Jasen Wise’s strategy to rotate the newcomer with sophomore Alex Bjerk (5-2, 2.71 GAA, .910 save-pct.).
Lawrence’s penchant for penalties has been its undoing this season. The Vikings’ 32.2 minutes in penalties per-game leads all Division III schools. That’s not a recipe for success, especially since the Vikings’ penalty kill (51-of- 65 for 78.5 percent) ranks 48th nationally. After winning six of the first seven, Lawrence (6-4, 4-2) was felled by the one-two punch of St. Norbert and Marian, which exploited the Vikings’ recidivist ways. The No. 3 Green Knights cashed in on two power-play chances while stoning the Vikes, 5-0, on Nov. 27 while the Sabres scored three man-advantage goals in a 10-2 shellacking a week later.
A need for some sustainability
A quick triage of MCHA’s lower rung turns up a number of ailments in their respective camps.
Northland (3-6, 2-4) was plaqued by a slow start, losing its first five before beating Finlandia (twice) and Bethel. After 7-6 victory over the Royals, the Lumberjacks were shelled 10-1 in the weekend series finale Dec. 11, which left senior goalie Daniel MacIntosh with a helium-filled 5.16 goals-against average.
For Lake Forest (2-9, 2-4), a dearth of goals continued to be a problem. The Foresters have been outscored 34-8 during their current seven-game losing skid. Sophomore Thomas Bark is the team’s leading scorer with 7 points on 2 goals and 5 assists in 11 games.
Meanwhile Finlandia (1-9, 1-7) is not only beset by a paucity of offense but a lack of upperclassmen. Goalie Ryan Donovan is the only senior on the roster, which also includes seven juniors. That’s left freshmen and sophomores to carry the load, with frosh forward Collin Saint-Onge’s seven points on two goals and five assists leading the team.
Concordia (1-13, 1-8) has been plagued by a severe lack of defense as evidenced by surrendering 66 goals in 14 games. No less than four Falcons goalies have taken turns in facing the onslaught, as opponents have unloaded 552 shots at them, which averages of 39 shots a game. The team is also 0-6 at home, 1-6 on the road and 0-1 on neutral ice where it lost 3-0 to Adrian at Michigan Stadium Dec. 4. Coach Tony Hrkac’s plight is similar to one faced by former Vancouver Canucks coach Harry Neale, who quipped, “Last season we couldn’t win at home and we were losing on the road. My failure was that I couldn’t think of any place else to play.”