Breaking down the MIAC and NCHA

Last week, I examined the top four MCHA contenders and their January schedule as they go head-to-head against each other in the next few weeks. This week, I will take a look at both the MIAC and NCHA conferences games in January. The matchups in the conferences are not as clear cut as the MCHA schedule as far as teams playing head-to-head games this month.

In the MIAC, things are a bit more complicated, with six teams within striking distance of the season title and the more important seeding for the MIAC conference tournament. The top five teams in the conference standings qualify for the MIAC tournament that begins February 24. The top three teams, No. 14 St. Thomas, Concordia (Minn.), and St. Olaf, are only separated by a point each in the standings. The next three teams, Bethel, Gustavus, and Hamline are tied for fourth place, just another point back.

The marquee series this weekend features current conference leader St. Thomas in a home-and-home series against defending MIAC champion Hamline. Concordia, Bethel, and Gustavus have weekend series against the three teams at the bottom of the MIAC, Augsburg, St. Mary’s and St. John’s. St. Olaf has a nonconference game at Wisconsin-Eau Claire to round out the weekend action.
The following weekend, Bethel and St. Olaf will be the only two teams in the standings going head to head. St. Thomas, Concordia (Minn.), and Hamline will take on St. Mary’s, St. John’s, and Augsburg, while Gustavus has the weekend off.

The last weekend in January will have the most direct impact in the standings, as St. Thomas and St. Olaf meet up in a home-and-home series, while Concordia (Minn.) travels to Gustavus. Hamline will face St. John’s, Bethel has the weekend off, and St. Mary’s will take on Augsburg.

St. Thomas is leading the MIAC with a 4-1-1 record. It has the top scoring offense in the MIAC, averaging 3.43 goals a game.  Junior Riley Horgan and senior Rob Phillip lead St. Thomas in scoring with 13 points, while junior Travis Baker has seven goals for the season.  Junior goalie Tyrone Simcoe has logged a majority of minutes this season, and has 2.57 goals-against average.
Concordia (Minn.) creates its success with goaltending and team defense. The team is in second place with a 3-1-2 record in the MIAC. The team allows 2.27 goals per game and is 6-1 in one-goal games. The combination of sophomores Kelly Andrew and Chris Neamonitis in goal gives Concordia (Minn.) the most solid 1-2 punch in the nets of the MIAC.

St. Olaf has a 3-2-1 record, good for third place in the conference. St. Olaf has a good combination of offense and defense, averaging 3.07 goals a game, while allowing 2.36. Senior defensemen Derek Grogan and Charlie Raskob lead St. Olaf in scoring with 13 points, and Grogan leads the MIAC in power-play scoring with eight points. The team has the best penalty kill in the MIAC at 87.1 percent.

Bethel, Gustavus, and Hamline all have a 3-3 record in conference play.

Gustavus has the best defense in the MIAC, allowing only 2.07 goals a game. Freshman goaltender John McLean leads all MIAC goaltenders with a 1.90 goals-against average. Senior Ross Ring-Jarvi leads Gustavus in scoring 15 points.

Hamline, the defending MIAC champions, has the top two scorers in the conference with Jordan VanGilder and Brian Arrigoni.  VanGilder leads the conference with 16 points, and Arrigoni is tied for first in goals scored with eight. Hamline has to tighten up its defense in order to make a run for consecutive conference titles.

Bethel will also need better defense in order to contend. It allows 3.87 goals a game, the same average as Hamline. Bethel has a top goal scorer as well in Jake Kolger, who also has eight goals.

In the NCHA, No. 4 Wisconsin-River Falls has a bit more breathing room in the standings, but not much. Wisconsin-Stevens Point is only two points behind, and No. 8 St. Norbert is three points out of first place. Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Wisconsin-Superior, and St. Scholastica are in a three-way tie for fourth place, four points back, and any one of those teams could provide a dark horse challenge to the regular season title.

Wis.-River Falls, with a 5-1-2 conference record, will need to be sharp, because after a home series against Wis.-Stout this weekend, it takes to the road to play St. Scholastica and it will finish off the month at both St. Norbert and Wis.-Stevens Point. Wis.-River Falls is No. 2 in Division III in goals allowed at 1.87 goals a game, while averaging scoring more than four goals a game. Sophomore goalie Scott Lewan has three shutouts on the season.

Wis.-Stevens Point, 4-4-2 in the NCHA, will start off January’s conference schedule with St. Scholastica, have a bye week and then play at Wis.-Eau Claire and Wis.-River Falls at home. Sophomore Kyle Heck leads Wis.-Stevens Point with 11 goals, and junior goalie Nick Graves leads the NCHA with a 2.12 goals-against average.

The schedule favors St. Norbert, which is 4-3-1 in conference play, with four of the next six games at home. Wis.-Superior comes to town this weekend, then has a road series with Wis.-Stout the following weekend, and St. Norbert finishes the month with home games against Wis.-River Falls and Wis.-Eau Claire. Senior Johan Ryd leads St. Norbert offensively with 20 points, while freshman goaltender David Jacobson has established himself in goal with a .905 save percentage.

At 3-3-2 in conference play, St. Scholastica can insert itself in the title hunt if it has successful series the next two weeks against the top two teams in the NCHA. St. Scholastica travels to Wis.-Stevens Point and then hosts Wis.-River Falls the following weekend. It will finish off the month at Wis.-Superior and Wis.-Stout. Junior Brett Corcoran leads the NCHA in scoring with 22 points.

Wis.-Superior, also 3-3-2 in the NCHA, will have a more difficult time if it wants to play spoiler. Starting off on the road at St. Norbert will not be an easy task. Wis.-Superior hosts Wis.-Eau Claire the following weekend, and then will finish the month with games against St. Scholastica and Wis.-Stout. Sophomore Pat Dalbec leads the team in scoring with 19 points. Sophomore goalie Drew Standberg has a 2.09 goals-against average.

Wis.-Eau Claire, 4-6 in the conference, plays a nonconference game with St. Olaf this weekend. Next weekend, Wis.-Eau Claire travels to Wis.-Superior and finishes the month with Wis.-Stevens Point at home and on the road at St. Norbert. Junior goaltender Brandon Stephenson has a 2.07 goals-against average.