Playoff preview: MCHA/MIAC/NCHA

Gustavus Adolphus Gusties
League: MIAC
Conference record: 8-5-3 (second)
Overall record: 16-6-5
NCAA history: Sixth appearance
Scoring offense: 3.11 g/gm
Scoring defense: 2.30 g/gm
Scoring margin: plus-22 (0.81 g/gm)
Power play: 19.8 percent
Penalty kill: 80.2 percent
Penalties: 12.81 pim/gm

Team Leaders
Goals: Adam Smyth (14)
Assists: Ross Ring-Jarvi (19)
Points: Ross Ring-Jarvi (29)
Power-play goals: Ross Ring-Jarvi, Ryan Johnson, Adam Smyth (3)
Short-handed goals: Ross Ring-Jarvi, Adam Smyth (2)
Goals against average: John McLean (2.12)
Save percentage: John McLean (.924)

Conference playoffs
Semifinals: defeated St. John’s, 3-1
Championship: defeated St. Olaf, 4-2

It was white-out conditions at Don Roberts Ice Arena last Saturday, and that was just fine for Gustavus Adolphus. The team had asked Gustavus fans attending the game to wear home white as it was facing MIAC rival St. Olaf for the MIAC Tournament title. Those conditions helped Gustavus jump out to a 3-0 lead, as it defeated St. Olaf, 4-2, to earn the MIAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Coaches in the MIAC believed Gustavus would end up as the second-best team in the conference this year, and their combined consensus held true.

“Maybe we were ranked a bit high, considering how young we are,” coach Brett Petersen said. “We are thankful, and feel very blessed to be in this position.”

Like most teams that have a lot of youth, Gustavus started off the season a bit sluggish. After a three-game losing streak before Thanksgiving, which included being swept by MIAC regular season champion St. Thomas, Gustavus rattled off an eight-game winning streak. Five of those wins were against competition from the MCHA and NCHA.

“Since Thanksgiving, we are 14-2-3; it took a while, but the light bulb went on, and good things happened,” Petersen said.

Currently, Gustavus has a seven-game unbeaten streak going into the NCAA Tournament.

Leading the way for Gustavus is the lone senior on the team, Ross Ring-Jarvi, who is the leading scorer and team captain.

“Ross has never missed a game in his four year career,” Petersen said. “He has played in 113 out of a possible 113 games. It is a great testament to his off-season work. He doesn’t play on the perimeter; he’s a physical player.”

The iron-man captain leads the team in scoring with 29 points. Sophomore Adam Smyth leads the team with 14 goals, and fellow sophomore Zach May has added 22 points.

Gustavus started the season with a 1-2 punch in goal. Tyler Venne and John McLean began sharing time in net, but an unfortunate injury to Venne, a junior, gave the freshman, McLean, a chance to prove himself.

“Both goalies played well this season, but then Tyler had an injury and he was out of action for two months,” Petersen said.  “John just got into a groove after that; he’s 6 foot 8 inches, covers a lot of net, and he’s agile, flexible with a great work ethic.”

Gustavus will host Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in the first round game Wednesday.

“We have not seen each other, so we will have to take care of what we have control over,” Petersen said. “Having a home game actually lengthens our week, not having to travel on Tuesday.”

The winner of the Gustavus-MSOE game will play the victor of the other West Region first round game between St. Thomas-St. Norbert on Saturday, March 10.

Milwaukee School of Engineering Raiders
League: MCHA
Conference record: 16-3-1 (second)
Overall record: 22-6-1
NCAA history: First appearance
Scoring offense: 4.24 g/gm
Scoring defense: 2.14 g/gm
Scoring margin: plus-61 (2.1 g/gm)
Power play: 20.3 percent
Penalty kill: 85.2 percent
Penalties: 19.28 pim/gm

Team Leaders
Goals: Jordan Keizer (23)
Assists: Jordan Keizer (22)
Points: Jordan Keizer (45)
Power-play goals: Todd Krupa, Cole Gibson (5)
Short-handed goals: Jordan Keizer (7)
Goals against average: Connor Toomey (1.98)
Save percentage: Connor Toomey (.926)

Conference playoffs
Semifinals: defeated Marian, 3-2 (OT)
Championship: defeated Adrian, 4-3 (OT)

There is a first time for everything.

Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) earned the MCHA automatic bid by defeating Adrian in overtime, 4-3, for the Harris Cup last Sunday. It will be MSOE’s first trip to the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.

MSOE had an exciting playoff run. It defeated Lake Forest in the first round of the MCHA playoffs, two-games-to-one, including going to overtime in the deciding mini-game. In the semifinals, MSOE defeated Marian 3-2, again in overtime.

MSOE began the season ranked 14th in Division III, and was picked to finish second in the MCHA behind Adrian in the MCHA Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

MSOE lost only one series all year, being swept by Marian in mid-January. MSOE had good success against five-time conference champion Adrian during the season, going 2-1-1 during the regular season. Adrian was ranked in the top 10 all season.

“It’s been a long journey, and each step they have matured,” coach Mark Ostapina said. “They put in a solid effort and worked hard, this is a second-to-none accomplishment.”

MSOE used its great depth and mix of younger and experienced players to achieve a second straight 20-win season.

“Kyle Smith came up big with the first goal against Adrian last weekend,” Ostapina said. “He had a redshirt season last year, so he’ll be back for a fifth year, and Todd Krupa is another accomplished player who can have big games.”

MSOE leads the nation in short-handed goals with 11. Jordan Keizer has seven of those goals to lead the nation in that category.

“His teammates have given him a nickname — ‘The Freak,'” Ostapina added. “He’s the second leading scorer in the country, has seven game-winning goals. and was named Harris Cup MVP; he’s having an outstanding season.”

In goal, MSOE has Connor Toomey; the senior has set a majority of the goaltending records for the team. This season, he has played more minutes than any other goalie in Division III. Toomey has three shutouts on the season.

Freshmen Josh Keizer, Cole Gibson, and Logan Bauman have also played significant roles for MSOE this season.

MSOE will face Gustavus Adolphus in a first round game in St. Peter, Minn., Wednesday, March 7. MSOE’s nonconference schedule featured strictly MIAC schools. It went 3-2 against the MIAC during the season, and was 2-2 while playing in Minnesota. MSOE faced Bethel, Hamline, St. John’s and St. Mary’s.

“Gustavus is a disciplined and well-coached team,” Ostapina said. “The game will be a test of wills. We have to play our game, make adjustments during the game, and take care of the puck.”

The winner of the MSOE-Gustavus game will face the winner of the other West Region first round matchup between St. Norbert and St. Thomas on Saturday, March 10.

St. Norbert Green Knights
League: NCHA
Conference record: 12-4-2 (first)
Overall record: 17-5-5
NCAA history: 13th appearance, two national championships (2008, 2011)
Scoring offense: 3.81 g/gm
Scoring defense: 2.22 g/gm
Scoring margin: plus-43 (1.59 g/gm)
Power play: 26.8 percent
Penalty kill: 88.8 percent
Penalties: 15.96 pim/gm

Team Leaders
Goals: Johan Ryd (15)
Assists: Johan Ryd, Cullen Bradshaw (21)
Points: Johan Ryd (36)
Power-play goals: Cody Keefer (8)
Short-handed goals: Johan Ryd, Cullen Bradshaw (1)
Goals against average: David Jacobson (1.64)
Save percentage: David Jacobson (.931)

Conference playoffs
Semifinals: defeated Wis.-Eau Claire, 2-0
Championship: defeated Wis.-Stevens Point, 4-0

The hunt for a second consecutive national title has officially begun. St. Norbert won the Peters Cup without allowing a goal in two NCHA tournament games. It was the first time in NCHA history that a team has accomplished that feat.

However, St. Norbert is going about its business as if the team is not the defending champions.

“It is not a traveling trophy, it’s a new trophy, a new season,” coach Tim Coghlin said. “There are 11 teams, and we’re one of them.  That is how we’re approaching this.”

After beginning the season as the No. 1 team in Division III, St. Norbert struggled a bit to start the season.

“We had 11 holes to fill from last year’s team,” Coghlin said. “Four defensemen and five forwards graduated that won the national championship.”

There were early-season road losses to NCHA rivals Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin-River Falls, and a 25-game home winning streak stopped by a 2-2 tie to fellow NCAA first round team Gustavus Adolphus. St. Norbert eventually lost two games at home this season to St. Scholastica, which snapped the undefeated home streak at 27 games, and another loss to later in the season to nemesis Wis.-River Falls.

“We took our lumps at the beginning,” Coghlin said. “But now, we’re playing at a high level and executing at a high level.”

St. Norbert enters the tournament in the midst of a five-game winning streak, and is 10-1-1 in its last 12 games.

St. Norbert is led on offense and defense by senior captain Johan Ryd, who led the team in scoring, goals and assists.

“Johan is the NCHA Player-of-the-Year, our best penalty killer, defensive forward,” Coghlin said. “He leads the team.”

Junior Kyle Stroh and freshman Cullen Bradshaw have supported Ryd and St. Norbert as well this season. Each player has 27 points on the season.

David Jacobson has settled in as St. Norbert’s starting goaltender in his rookie season.

“David was not the starter at the beginning of the season, but he earned it,” Coghlin said. “He has not relinquished the starter’s job; he’s an athletic, driven young man. The team has a complete defensive effort, and it starts with him.”

St. Norbert will face St. Thomas in the first-round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. St. Norbert is the top seed in the West Region for the tenth time in 11 years.

The winner of St. Norbert-St. Thomas will face the winner of Gustavus Adolphus and Milwaukee School of Engineering on Saturday, March 10.

St. Thomas Tommies
League: MIAC
Conference record: 13-2-1 (first)
Overall record: 18-5-2
NCAA history: 15th appearance, national runner up (2000, 2005)
Scoring offense: 3.40 g/gm
Scoring defense: 2.28 g/gm
Scoring margin: plus-28 (1.12 g/gm)
Power play:  24.6 percent
Penalty kill: 88.3 percent
Penalties: 12.64 pim/gm

Team Leaders
Goals: Rob Philipp (13)
Assists: Riley Horgan (27)
Points: Riley Horgan (32)
Power-play goals: Rob Philipp (6)
Short-handed goals: Alex Altenbernd, Tom O’Donnell (1)
Goals against average: Drew Fielding (1.99)
Save percentage: Drew Fielding (.921)

Conference playoffs
Semifinals: lost to St. Olaf, 4-3

It was a long week. St. Thomas resumed practice last Wednesday, after being defeated by St. Olaf, 4-3, in the semifinal round of the MIAC Tournament, in hopes it would receive a bid to the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.

On Sunday, St. Thomas received a coveted Pool C at-large bid. This is the 15th playoff appearance for St. Thomas, and seventh in the last 13 seasons. St. Thomas was national runner-up in 2000 and 2005, and lost in overtime during the quarterfinal round in 2008.

“We are honored, humbled, and hungry,” coach Jeff Boeser said. “We had to remain positive during the week.”

St. Thomas appeared to have it all during the regular season. It began as the preseason favorite in the MIAC, as the MIAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll had St. Thomas listed as the team to beat. St. Thomas had an 11-game winning streak, the longest of any team this season. During the win streak, St. Thomas won five one-goal games; three games went to overtime, and St. Thomas went 4-0-2 in overtime games during the season.

St. Thomas began the season not ranked in the polls, receiving some votes, but not enough to crack the top 15, but with its early-season success and then the win streak, St. Thomas eventually made it up to No. 5 in the rankings.

“We had no choice in the scheduling,” Boeser said.  “We were not able to play outside our conference a lot this season.”

There were only two games St. Thomas played outside the MIAC this season, and those games were at the Adrian Thanksgiving Tournament.  After St. Thomas lost a close game to Buffalo State in the first game, 3-2, it came back the next day to defeat Adrian in the consolation game of the tournament, 3-1.

“Maybe that game against Adrian was the game that put us in the tournament,” Boeser speculated. “But, honestly, I don’t know.”

St. Thomas, like other teams still playing, has great depth on all lines. The team has had contributions from many players. Senior captain Rob Philipp led the team in goals with 13, with five of the goals counting as game-winners. Junior Riley Horgan led the team in scoring with 32 points.

Freshmen Chris Cass and Alex Altenbernd had fine rookie campaigns, contributing 22 and 16 points respectively.

In goal, time was split mainly between junior Tyrone Simcoe and freshman Drew Fielding. Simcoe had an 8-3-1 record, while Fielding went 9-2 and recorded a shutout.

St. Thomas has a difficult road ahead, literally. It will be taking a five-hour bus ride across Wisconsin to face the defending national champions.

“St. Norbert, they are the defending champs, they have a good system, they don’t make many mistakes, and they’re tough at home,” Boeser said.  “We will have to play the same way that gives us success in situations, adjust, and work hard. This team has some of the hardest workers.”

The winner of the St. Thomas-St. Norbert game Wednesday will play the winner of the other West Region first round game featuring Gustavus Adolphus and Milwaukee School of Engineering on Saturday, March 10, in the quarterfinals.