All the marbles

Here is a quick look at this weekend’s respective playoff championships in the Midwest, Minnesota and Northern collegiate hockey conferences. The winners in all three will get a ticket to the NCAA Division III Tournament, which starts March 9 with the first round. The Final Four takes place March 25-26 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn.

MIAC Championship Final, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 5
No. 3-seed Concordia (Minn.) at No. 1-seed Hamline
Records: Concordia (12-10-4); Hamline (15-6-5)
Regular season series: Split 1-1: at Concordia (Hamline, 4-0, Feb. 18; Concordia, 7-4, Feb. 19)
Leading scorers: Concordia — Nick Thielen (4 goals, 25 assists, 29 points); Hamline — Brian Arrigoni (16-17-33)
Between the pipes: Concordia — Kelly Andrew (11-6-3, 2.81 goals-against, .904 save-percentage); Hamline — Beau Christian (13-4-3, 2.41 GAA, .922 save-pct.)

The Pipers are banking on a bevy of experience to carry them to a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. No. 11-ranked Hamline was methodical in defeating Gustavus Adolphus, 3-0, in its semifinal last Saturday, with Jordan VanGilder, Brett Burgau and Brian Arrigoni netting goals while netminder and MIAC Co-Player of the Week Beau Christian turned away 36 shots in a shutout performance.

Hamline’s roster features eight seniors — including three-time All-American defenseman Chris Berenguer –  and five juniors.

“One thing we do have is players where this is their sixth or seventh playoff game,” Pipers coach Scott Bell said. “For Beau Christian, this is his sixth playoff game, and he has played in a MIAC championship before (a 5-2 loss to Gustavus, March 4, 2009). So I don’t think nervousness is going to be a problem.”

Concordia upset No. 2-seed St. Thomas, 4-2, in its semifinal, with MIAC Co-Player of the Week Ben Payne scoring twice and freshmen netminder Kelly Andrew making 27 saves to ensure the win. The Cobbers entered the postseason having reversed a 1-5 start by going 11-5-4 in their last 20 games.

The Cobbers have one senior, Michael Weiss, who has seen limited playing time, and seven juniors, including leading-scorer Nick Thielen. Starting goalie Kelly Andrew, who made 27 saves in the playoff victory at St. Thomas, is one of a handful of freshman.

“My guys aren’t real fazed by any type of situation,” Concordia coach Chris Howe said. “So, I guess, maybe they don’t know any better. They are just going out and playing, because that is what they do.”

NCHA Peters Cup Final, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 5
No. 2-seed Wisconsin-Superior at No. 1-seed St. Norbert
Records: UW-Superior (16-11-1), St. Norbert (21-4-1)
Regular season series: St. Norbert, 2-1 (3-0, UW-Superior, Jan. 20; 5-4, St. Norbert, Jan. 21; and 3-0, St. Norbert, Feb. 4)
Leading scorers: UW-Superior — Talon Berlando (11-14-25); St. Norbert — Johan Ryd (8-15-23)
Between the Pipes: UW-Superior — Drew Strandberg (10-8-1, 2.25 GAA, .916 save-pct.); St. Norbert — B.J. O’Brien (18-2-1, 1.65 GAA, .927 save-pct.)

The Green Knights are ranked No. 1 in the nation for good reason. Sporadic losses only served as springboards for new winning streaks.

One of the team’s rare defeats though, came at Wisconsin-Superior, when the Green Knights were shutout, 3-0, Jan. 20. It marked the only time the Green Knights were blanked this season.

“We have a lot of history with Superior playing in big games, and I think this game is no different,” Green Knights coach Tim Coghlin said. “When we played them recently in our building, one of the talking points that I talked about with our guys is that I said I thought Superior was the best team we’ve seen this year.

“It’s no surprise, to me, it’s who we see in the championship.”

The No. 1-seed emerged from the bye week by comprehensively defeating Wisconsin-River Falls, 5-3, last Saturday. Kyle Stroh scored twice while goalie and NCHA Player of the Year B.J. O’Brien stopped 12 of 15 shots.

The No. 15-ranked Yellowjackets showed no effects from an uneven 4-6 run down the stretch, dismantling Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 4-2, at home Saturday. Tyler Klein scored the game-winner while freshman netminder Drew Strandberg stopped 31 of 33 shots including 14 in the third period.

“In the league preseason poll, we were picked sixth of seven teams, so maybe we’re an underdog, but we’ve played well the last three weeks and have used every bit of energy to extend our season.”  UW-Superior coach Dan Stauber told the Duluth News Tribune this week. “We had a stretch of five straight losses (spanning January and February), but four of those were by one goal.”

MCHA Harris Cup Finals, Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6, Adrian College Arrington Ice Arena
Semifinal, 2 p.m. Saturday
No. 4-seed Lawrence at No. 1-seed Adrian
Records: Lawrence (14-12-1), Adrian (21-3-1)
Regular season series: Adrian 2-0 (4-3 and 3-1 at Lawrence Jan. 21-22)
Leading scorers: Lawrence — Matt Hughes (13-15-28); Adrian — Shawn Skelly (16-20-36)
Between the pipes: Lawrence — Evan Johnson (13-10-1, 2.90 GAA, .910 save-pct.); Adrian — Brad Fogal (21-3-1, 2.19 GAA, .921 save-pct.)

The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs are coming off a two-week layoff, having earned the top playoff seed and a bye.

The break came as Adrian was arguably playing its best hockey of the season, culminating in a two-game sweep over No. 9 Milwaukee School of Engineering by identical 3-1 scores Feb. 18-19. The team is unbeaten in its last 14 games (13-0-1), and is riding a 10-game winning streak.

There’s a sense of urgency among the squad’s veterans, which includes 17 seniors, Adrian coach Ron Fogarty said.

“With an older group, they realize it’s either one game left or five or six games,” said Fogarty, whose team has won four-consecutive regular season crowns and is ranked No. 2 behind St. Norbert in the NCAA D-III West Region.

“They sense the end is coming near. We’ve played really well the last couple of weeks.”

By contrast, Lawrence season’s fortunes have been mixed. The Vikings were 8-8 since Jan. 1, losing three of their last four to close out the regular season.

Lawrence bounced back by sweeping Northland, 2-1 and 3-1, in the quarterfinals last Friday and Saturday. Josh DeSmit scored the game-winner in both contests, while senior goalie Evan Johnson stopped 52 of 54 shots to earn the victories.

“We certainly have a group of young men who have a great passion and desire to be successful on the ice,” Lawrence coach Mike Szkodzinski said. “However, it seems there are times where we don’t bring our A-game. When we don’t bring our A-game, we are beatable. When we do bring our A-game, we can compete with a lot of people.”

Semifinal: 6 p.m. Saturday
No. 3-seed Milwaukee School of Engineering vs. No. 2-seed Marian

Records: MSOE (21-5-1); Marian (18-7)
Regular season series: MSOE 2-0 (4-2, at home Nov. 13; and 2-1, at Marian, Nov. 14)
Leading scorers: MSOE — Jordan Keizer (23-14-37); Marian — Dakota Dubetz (14-31-45)
Between the pipes: MSOE — Connor Toomey (18-5-1, 1.77 GAA, .930 save-pct.); Marian — Alex Bjerk (11-4, 2.16 GAA, .915 save-pct.) and Josh Baker (6-3, 2.74 GAA, .921 save-pct.)

The No. 9-ranked Raiders’ took a more circuitous route to the MCHA Final Four, having to sweep Lake Forest in the quarterfinals despite having the conference’s second-best record.

MSOE has remained ranked among the nation’s Top-15 D-III schools most of the season, and features one of the most prolific scorers in Jordan Keizer,  who’s is tied nationally with Johnson and Wales’s Jeremiah Ketts for most goals with 23.

Connor Toomey’s superlative 1.77 goals-against is only second to St. Norbert’s B.J. O’Brien (1.65 GAA) as the nation’s best. The Raiders’ netminder is tied for first nationally with four shutouts while his .930-save percentage ranks fourth.

Marian has its own stars on the national charts. The sophomore talisman Dakota Dubetz’ 1.80 points-per game is tied for third nationally. His 31 assists rank second.

As a team, the Sabres reversed gears after enduring a four-game slump in November to finished the campaign by going 13-2. Marian started the season 5-1 with a 7-3 setback at then-No.10 Adrian being the lone blemish.