At season’s start, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Association men’s hockey race was pegged to be a toss-up. So far, that prognostication has proven astute as very little real estate separates leader No. 15 St. Thomas and the rest of the pack.
Preseason favorite Hamline is a point out of first place. So, too, is No. 6 Gustavus Adolphus, which has a better overall record (9-3-1) than the Tommies (8-5) and Pipers (6-3-1).
While the New Year brings typically brings vows to lose weight or quit smoking, here are a few resolutions MIAC teams might consider to gain a second-half edge.
The Tommies possess a balanced scoring attack, which has been fueled by senior Andrew Kappers’ team-leading 2 goals and 14 assists for 16 goals. The team’s upbeat outlook has largely hinged on freshman goalie Geoff Sadjadi’s rapid development. Sometimes, Sadjadi (5-5, 2.96 goal-against average, .894 save-percentage) finds himself beseiged, facing 36 shots in the Tommies’ 5-4 OT loss to Milwaukee School of Engineering Dec. 11. getting deluged with 21 shots in the first period before being replaced in a 5-3 setback to Gustavus on Dec. 3. Resolution: Build a fortress around Sadjadi and cut down on the opposition’s caloric intake, in the form of shots, in front of the Tommies’ goal.
Remarkably, the Pipers (6-3-1, 3-0-1) remain within striking distance of first place despite possessing a tepid power play (53rd out of 77 D-III, 7 of 43 for 16.3 percent). In two of the three losses, the lack of execution in man-advantage situations proved costly in losses to Wisconsin-Stevens Points (1 of 7) Nov. 6 and Adrian (1 of 8) Nov. 27. The puzzling aspect of the feeble power-play output is that the team possesses two gunners in two-time All-American Chris Berenguer (5-5-10) and Brian Arrigoni (5-5-10). Berenguer has a team-leading three man-advantage markers while overall leading scorer Danny Vranek (5-7-12) has two. Resolution: Put the power-play unit on a protein-enriched diet to add some punch.
Freshmen Gustav Bengston (6-6-12) and Adam Smyth (4-8-12) have emerged as two of the team’s leading scorers while the leadership of senior left wing Brad Wieck (2-10-12) and forward Ross Ring-Jarvi (4-7-11) has put the No. 6 Gusties on a path to post-season prosperity. The goaltending has also been solid with senior Josh Swartout (5-3-1, 2.64 GAA, .905 save-pct.). The Gusties’ only blemish was a 2-1 overtime to St. Thomas Dec. 4. After surrendering the tying goal with less than a minute left, Ring-Jarvi was whistled for tripping 21 seconds into OT, which enabled the Tommies’ Travis Baker to grab the game-winner. Resolution: Steer clear of the penalty box, especially in overtime.
The Royals (3-8-2, 2-3-2) overcame a rough start where they dropped five of their first six contests to remain in the playoff hunt. The meat of the MIAC schedule remains with Hamline (Jan. 14-15), Saint Mary’s (Jan. 21-22), St. Olaf (Jan. 28-29) and St. Thomas (Feb. 11-12) on tap in the New Year. Scoring is not an issue. Sophomore Jack Paul (12-7-19) leads a cadre of snipers who fattened their numbers with a 10-1 rout over nonconference Northland Dec. 11 to close out the year. Bethel needs shore up defensively (outscored 49-46) and beef up its penalty kill (68 of 85 for 80 percent). Resolution: Rally around sophomore goalie Zac Bush (2-6-2, 3.76 GAA, .887 save-pct.), who has struggled and could use more defensive support.
The Cobbers (2-5-3, 1-2-3) were unbeaten in four games going into the holiday break, ekking out three ties and a win in a spate overtime contests. Freshman goalie Kelly Andrew (2-1-1, 2.56 GAA, .910 save-pct.) has been a revelation. The Calgary, Alberta native’s inspired performance — stopping 50 of 53 shots — earned the Cobbers three of four points in a weekend tilt with St. Olaf Nov. 19-20. Offensively, though, Concordia is running on fumes with Pat Dietz (7-2-9) accounting for nearly a third of the team’s paltry 25 goals in 10 games. Resolution: Shoot first and ask questions later.
The Auggies (6-3-1, 2-2) have all the ingredients — namely proven scorers in Joel Sauer (No. 2 nationally with 1.90 points per game, 6-13-19) and Nick Guran (No. 2 nationally with 1.10 goals per game, 11-6-17) and a solid netminder in Justin Lochner (4-3-1, 1.86 GAA, .929 save-pct.) — to put together a captivating second-half run. The team headed into the break on a four-game winning surge, taking a pair from a plucky St. John’s squad Dec. 3-4. The team’s lone hiccup in MIAC play was losing a home-and-home series to first-place St. Thomas, 2-1 and 4-0, on Nov. 12-13. Resolution: Maintain the high-octain offense and prove the early season setback to the No. 15 Tommies was an aberration.
The streaky Cardinals (3-8, 2-2) headed into the break on a five-game skid. That nosedive came on the heels of a three-game win surge when the Cards beat St. Olaf, 3-1, on Nov. 6 and Concordia (Minn), 5-2 and 2-1, Nov. 12-13. With only three seniors in the bunch, such peaks and valleys are to be expected from a young squad where the bright spots are found in individual play. On that front, sophomore goalie Andy Scheib (1-4, 2.36 GAA, .932 save-pct.) has emerged as a solid starter. The Cards could do themselves a favor by beefing up a weak power play, which was an anemic 9 of 60 for 15 percent. Resolution: Find the back of the net with more frequency.
The Johnnies (3-10, 2-4) have a penchant for upsets (i.e. 2-1 win at St. Thomas Nov. 20) but otherwise have slumbered through the first half. Consistent goaltending has been a problem. Junior Tony Civello (2-7, 3.49 GAA, .884 save-pct), sophomore Adam Andersson (0-3, 3.08 GAA, .895 save-pct.) and sophomore J.D. Wells (1-0, 2.01 GAA, .882 save-pct.) have all taken turns in net. In his first collegiate start, Wells did backstop the Johnnies to a 3-2 victory over Bethel Dec. 8 to snap a four-game losing skid. The Cards haven’t helped their cause with a dreadful power play, which was a woeful 5 of 57 for 8 percent. Resolution: Improve the moribund power play and have the three goalies partake in a few Stuart Smalley daily affirmations.
There’s much to suggest that the Oles’ last place standing is a temporary condition. For one, the team is miserly in its own end, holding opponents to a meager 2.25 goals-per-game. Part of the credit goes to senior netminder Nick Krauss (3-3-3, 2.27 GAA, .916 save-pct.), whose consistent play has kept the Oles in the mix. A lack of crucial goals has been a detriment as St. Olaf’s 4-5-3 (0-3-3 MIAC) record would undoubtedly be better if not for a lackluster 0-2-3 mark in overtime games. Resolution: Get the job done in regulation.