Concordia (Minn.) chasing first place

In my preseason review of the MIAC, I picked Concordia (Minn.) to win the MIAC. I made that prediction because the Cobbers had the luxury of two solid goaltenders returning and played good team defense and special teams. Although the Cobbers finished fourth in the MIAC last season, the team made it to the title game of the conference tournament, where they lost to conference champion Hamline, 5-2.

In the MIAC Preseason Coaches’ poll, the Cobbers were picked to finish third, but in the process received three first places votes.

After taking three out of a possible four points against St. Thomas last weekend, Concordia is only one point behind St. Thomas in the MIAC standings. St. Thomas has a conference record of 4-1-1, which is good for nine points and the conference lead.  Meanwhile, Concordia’s (Minn.) conference record is 3-1-2 which puts the team on the heels of St. Thomas with eight points.

“St. Thomas is a great team, and we always feel that if you are going to have a chance to contend in our league, you have to play well against them,” Concordia (Minn.) coach Chris Howe said.

St. Thomas jumped out to a 2-0 lead Friday. Concordia tied the score 2-2 in the second and put the game away in the third on a goal by Ben Payne.

“We had to come back from two goals down to win,” Howe said. “We were gritty and played with a lot passion.”

Concordia was 12 seconds away from sweeping St. Thomas on Saturday, but a late third period St. Thomas goal forced overtime, and the teams settled for a 2-2 tie.

“That stung a bit!” exclaimed Howe. “We took the lead early, but we ended up taking 11 penalties and we just tried to hang around.”

The Cobbers had to kill off a pair of five-on-three power plays on Saturday.

“We played the game that we needed to play both nights,” Howe added. “All in all though, we feel good about the weekend. We know that we have a long way to go. We have yet to play a full game this year, and our guys know it. However, we always feel good about playing well in our rink. Anytime you can go into a long break in league play and be near the top, you feel good, not satisfied, but good.”

Concordia (Minn.) has not lost in its last five games against St. Thomas.

The performance of goalies Kelly Andrew and Chris Neamonitis has been stellar this season, and the reason the Cobbers are a contender in the MIAC.

Andrew has a 3-2 record on the season, a goals against average of 2.29, and a save percentage of .929. Neamonitis has a 3-1-2 record, a goals against average of 1.89, and a .945 save percentage. They both have recorded a shutout in the season so far.

“Kelly and Chris are solid goalies,” said Howe. “They have a great relationship, and challenge each other to play well.”

The coach works with both goalies during the week, in a “goalie skate” skills day on Wednesday.

“I always tell them that Wednesdays are one of my favorite days,” he said. “One, I get to shoot on them, and two, we work on skills that sometimes get missed during the normal week.”

Offensively, Concordia is led by defensemen Caleb Sunderman and Erick Galt, a 2010-2011 second team ACHA All-American, and forwards Aaron Wheeler, Nick Thielen, and Payne.

The defensemen lead the team in scoring. Sunderman has eight points on one goal and seven assists. Galt is second with two goals and five assists for seven points.

Payne has two goals, both being game-winners, while Wheeler leads the team in goals scored with four. Thielen has one goal and five assists this season.

Concordia’s (Minn.) success does depend on defense. The team has allowed, on average, just over two goals a game. The team has scored three goals only twice this season, but has not been shut out.

“I think that our league is extremely well-coached, and if you are not defensively minded, you are going to get beat,” Howe said.  “At Concordia, we pride ourselves on playing great team defense.

“I tell our players that scoring comes and goes, like a cat, but defense is like your hunting dog, it is always by your side.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week — Zach Graham (Jr.), Adrian. Graham registered two goals and two assists on Friday, then followed that up with two more assists on Saturday in a series with Concordia (Wis.).

Defensive Player of the Week — Logan Bauman (Fr.), Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Bauman had five assists in the series against Lake Forest, and was a key member of the penalty kill unit that held off a pair of five-minute penalties in Saturday’s game.

Freshman of the Week — Brian Berger, Marian. Berger nabbed the award for the second consecutive week. He had three goals and three assists last weekend in a series with Northland.

Athlete of the Week — Jake Kogler (Sr.). Bethel. Kogler received the honor for his performance in Bethel’s sweep of Hamline last weekend; he scored four goals in the two games.

Player of the Week — Scott Lewan (So.), Wisconsin-River Falls. Lewan surrendered just two goals over the weekend, leading Wis.-River Falls to a road sweep of Wisconsin-Superior.


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