When the puck drops on the 2012 portion of the schedule, Bethel will try to keep its recent success rolling. Every college team wants positive energy going into the winter break, and Bethel has it.
Consider Bethel the surprise team in the MIAC this season. It is locked into a tight race in the conference standings. Bethel is tied for fourth with Gustavus and Hamline, two teams that were expected to be at the top of the MIAC in the beginning of the season. St. Thomas, Concordia (Minn.) and St. Olaf are on top of the conference at this time.
“The MIAC is pretty even this year, so it doesn’t really matter who you play and when,” Bethel coach Charlie Burggraf said. “Bottom line: if your team doesn’t show up to play, you most likely will lose the game. With the break, every team is faced with recreating a positive momentum. We will see how it goes”.
Currently, Bethel has a three-game winning streak, its first since 2010, and has won four out of its last five games. Last season, Bethel only won four games.
“I believe the recent success is a result of a number of factors: the team learning the system, learning to play together, and learning to find a way to win games,” said Burggraf, who is in his second season at Bethel.
During Bethel’s December victory streak, it swept defending MIAC champion Hamline, and in its last game before the winter break, Bethel defeated No. 11 Milwaukee School of Engineering, 2-1, which is an incredible turnaround, considering the team started the season off with five losses
“I feel we have been ‘in’ all but two of our games this year,” Burggraf added. “We played well enough to win. We have had some great moments and some not-so-great moments along the way, but our approach is to apply the science of continuous improvement to the process and use what we refer to as ‘game data’ to get better. So we have been trending in this direction since the beginning (with variation along the way), and it is good to see the guys experience success in the form of wins”.
Bethel had many new faces to begin the season. There were 11 freshman and two transfers taking the ice for the first time.
“As a philosophy, I prefer to keep line composition changes to a necessary minimum; however, being a new coach and having so many contributing freshman, we have had to move things around quite a bit to see how lines played together in games,” Burggraf said. “There are minor matching adjustments in games, but I believe in playing to our strengths, versus being too overly concerned with what the other team is doing.”
However, the strength of Bethel’s accomplishments this season has been the veteran presence on the team.
“A significant factor to the team’s success has been our team’s leadership. The captains have done an outstanding job of leading. Each player has also taken ownership of their respective effort and attitude as well, and our team culture is the most significant contributor to the team’s success. We believe culture beats strategy.”
Jake Kogler and Chris Fiala lead the team in scoring with 11 points each. Kogler leads the team with eight goals. John Crouse has added 10 points, while Jack Paul has eight points on the season.
Even after a tough start to the season, the team remained poised and began to turn things around after the first month of the season.
“We did let some games get away from us earlier in the season, and the tendency is for players to begin questioning themselves and what we are doing,” Burggraf said. “A result is that confidence can be tied to the result, as opposed to the process of what we are doing. It boils down to a matter of disciplined focus by each team member, including the coaches.”
The growth of the team during the course of the season has been an education in itself for the Bethel team.
“In the process of maturing, difficulty can be a great teacher, and has for us,” Burggraf added. “To their credit, the guys have been persistent and battled through the challenges. I am proud of them and the way they have responded to the challenges. I am hopeful that we can continue growing throughout the entire season, which is the true test of where a team is at from a maturity standpoint.”
The recent team achievement has made Bethel a revelation in the MIAC.
“Obviously, the success has had a positive impact on the team’s confidence,” he stated.
Bethel resumes play on January 6, when it will host Wisconsin-Stout and then face MIAC leader St. Thomas on January 7. Due to the interlocking schedule of the MIAC and NCHA, the game against St. Thomas will be a nonconference game in the standings.