The respective Division III West conference races have turned into a sprint for the finish where standout goaltending will remain at a premium. Here is a quick look at those the star performers between the pipes who will have a large say in how their respective teams perform down the stretch as the battle for supremacy continues in the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association, Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Northern Collegiate Hockey Association circuits.
Brad Fogal, Adrian. After surrendering three goals in 29 minutes, the senior was unceremoniously yanked for 22 seconds in the team’s 7-5 victory over Buffalo State on Jan. 7, to refocus, his coach said.
“That’s first time I’ve ripped into him in his career,” coach Ron Fogarty said. “He’s responded well.”
Fogal’s replied with superlative performances against Milwaukee School of Engineering and Lawrence. Against the Vikings, Fogal made a season-high 39 saves in preserving a 4-3 victory to mark his 80th career win. He’s maintained a respectable 2.46 goals-against and a commendable .914 save-percentage to go along with his 13-3-1 oveall record. He’s at his best when he’s squaring up to shooters and corralling rebounds.
Connor Toomey, MSOE. The junior has only elevated his game after a laudable sophomore campaign (12-8-2, 2.66 GAA, .898 save pct.). This season, the Burlington, Mass. native, has been at the forefront of the Raider’s stellar season with his stingy 1.84 GAA and sparkling .925 save-percentage. He bounced back admirably after a 6-1 drubbing by MCHA foe Adrian with a 30-save performance the following afternoon in a 2-2 draw Jan. 15. His 11-3-1 run includes shutouts over Concordia (Wis.), 6-0, Oct. 30 and Saint Mary’s, 2-0, Dec. 3.
“With Connor, his technique is so sound,” MSOE coach Mark Ostapina said. “I think in every situation, whether it’s trapping or whatever, it’s what serves him so well.”
Beau Christian, Hamline. Recovered from offseason hip surgery, the Moorhead, Minn., junior has backstopped the No. 8 Pipers to sole possession of first place in the MIAC with his standout play. His 9-1-2 record is underscored by a commendable 2.22 GAA and an excellent .929 save percentage, which ranks No. 10 nationally. Christian’s lone loss this season came in a 4-1 setback to then seventh-ranked Adrian Nov. 27.
Last weekend, he only yielded one goal and stopped 66 of 67 shots in a pivotal two-game sweep over St. Thomas, which catapulted the Pipers vault into first spot. The radiant performance came after a puzzling 4-4 draw against Bethel.
“The nice thing about Beau is when he gets frustrated, he just bears down and comes back with a real good performance,” Hamline coach Scott Bell said. “He was the difference-maker in Saturday night’s (2-1 victory), that’s for sure.”
Tyrone Simcoe, St. Thomas. After starting the season on the bench, the 5-foot-8-inch Wayzata High (Minn.) player appears to have seized control of the Tommies’ starting job. Simcoe helped his cause by posting back-to-back shutouts against Wisconsin-River Falls, 3-0, on Jan. 8, and Concordia (Minn), 3-0, Jan. 14. Despite subsequent one-goal losses to Concordia (3-2) and Hamline (2-1), Simcoe’s overall numbers continue to shine. His 1.84 GAA ranks seventh in D-III while his .929 save percentage is 11th.
Those statistics have enabled the sophomore to supplant freshman Geoff Sadjadi (5-5, 3.08 GAA, .889 save pct.) in the ongoing battle for the starting role.
“The thing I stress with both of them is that they need to be good teammates for each other, but at the same time they need to push each other,” St. Thomas goalie coach Jacque Venzina said.
B.J. O’Brien, St. Norbert. Some may argue the senior goaler benefits from the No. 2 Green Knights’ lock-down defensive system, but the biggest challenge for any shotstopper is remaining sharp when there is a time gulf between saves. Whether shots have come in bits or bunches, O’Brien’s excelled, as his statistics reflect. His paltry 1.74 GAA ranks third in the nation, while his .867 winning percentage on a 13-2 win-loss record is fifth. His excellent .925 save percentage places O’Brien among D-III’s goaltending upper echelon. O’Brien’s coach said the best is yet to come.
“If you watched how well B.J., played last year and down the stretch, he was lights-out,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “This year, we haven’t been as consistent, but we are still getting the victory. The upside there is that he has more to give and we can play better.”
Players of the Week
MCHA: Kraig Wright, Northland. The sophomore right wing notched the game-tying goal with 18 seconds left in regulation to forge a 4-4 draw against Lake Forest Jan 21. The Corruna, Ont. native scored in the first period in the series opener. He also set up Shaun Newman’s game-winning goal in Northland’s 4-2 victory over the visiting Foresters the following day. Wright is third in team scorer with eight goals and seven assists for 15 points.
MIAC: Beau Christian, Hamline. The junior netminder stopped 66 of 67 shots while only yielding a goal in the No. 11 Pipers’ two-game sweep over St. Thomas in a battle for first place. In doing so, Christian extended Hamline’s unbeaten streak to nine games (6-0-3). In Friday’s game, Christian stopped 30 Tommies shots while recording his fifth career shutout in the team’s 6-0 rout. He made 36 saves, including 16 in the final period, preserve a 2-1 victory in Saturday’s rematch.
NCHA: Jordan Singer, Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The sophomore netted a hat trick in the series’ opener while amassing eight points in the Blugolds’ two-game sweep over St. Scholastica Jan. 21-22. Singer’s five-point night in Friday’s 5-3 included scoring the game-deciding goal adding two assists. He supplied two goals and an assist in Saturday’s 5-2 triumph to keep the Blugolds in the NCHA hunt. He leads UW-Eau Claire scorers with 24 points.