MIAC picks: Feb. 1

Perhaps the experience I have gained making picks week to week this season has made me a little wiser.
This past week, I finished 5-3, and even correctly predicted a tie and an exact final score.  My record now stands at 49-45.
I said that St. John’s and Hamline would skate to a tie in the opening game of their series, and they did. Then, in the St. Thomas-St. Olaf series, I picked the Oles to win the finale, 3-2.
I realize that was probably a once-in-a-lifetime deal being that accurate, but I’ll take it.
As for this week, we have entered February and eight teams will be in action.
St. Olaf will be trying to maintain its lead atop the conference when it plays against Augsburg, and St. Thomas will be looking to bounce back from two losses last week when it battles Bethel.
Gustavus Adolphus and Hamline square off against each other as well, as do St. Mary’s and St. John’s in a match-up featuring the two teams clinging to the final two playoff spots at the moment.
The MIAC has been competitive all season, and only Hamline has more than six losses in conference play, which means the playoff picture is far from being painted.
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 1-2
St. Thomas vs. Bethel
The Tommies suffered a rare sweep last week against St. Olaf, and are now in second place in the conference standings. The Tommies beat Bethel on Jan. 5 by a 6-4 score, and they need to make sure the game isn’t as high-scoring this time. St. Thomas is one of the top defensive teams in the conference, and it needs to be able to lean on its defense to get the job done against the Royals. Bethel isn’t out of the playoff picture yet, but the Royals probably need to get at least one of these games to avoid putting itself on the edge of elimination. The Royals are in a funk, having lost their last seven games, and they have given up four or more goals in every game during the streak. It will be tough to slow down the Tommies, and if Bethel is going to get a win in this series, it’s going to be at home on Friday. St. Thomas 5-3, 5-2
Gustavus vs. Hamline
The Gusties open this home-and-home series on the road, and they will be up against a Pipers team that continues to play very hard, despite what its record says. The Gusties are on the outside looking in at the moment for the playoffs, but earning a split over Concordia last week helped keep them in the mix. Players like Adam Smyth and Jack Walsh have to be able to help set the tone offensively. The Gusties need a quick start on offense in order to avoid letting the Pipers hang around. If Gustavus Adolphus can get going early on offense, it should be good enough defensively to seal the deal. Gustavus has only given up 47 goals this season. For Hamline, it’s all about competing hard early and not giving up an early goal. The Pipers have forged ties in three of their last four games by playing solid defense, and if that continues this weekend, they will give the Gusties fits. I expect Hamline to get at least one more tie this weekend. 2-2 tie, Gustavus 4-1
St. Mary’s vs. St. John’s
What makes this match-up interesting is that the Johnnies and Cardinals are fourth and fifth, respectively, in the conference standings. The series these two teams will play over the weekend will carry a lot of weight. The Johnnies, who will play both games at home, have not lost in their last six outings, tying three times, and they have played well on the defensive end, giving up more than a goal only once during the streak. If St. John’s can get a good effort out of Saxton Soley and continue to limit scoring chances by the opposition, it should be in good shape for the weekend ahead. That said, St. Mary’s has struggled to get on track this month, dropping three consecutive games. They only managed five goals in those three losses, and this is a weekend where the Cardinals need Mike Hill to really step up and take charge offensively. He has been phenomenal all year, and I expect him to play well against the Johnnies. This series will probably come down to which team plays the best defensively. St. John’s has allowed 42 goals this year, and St. Mary’s has given up 69. St. John’s 4-2, St. Mary’s 6-3
Augsburg vs. St. Olaf
The Oles have an opportunity to maintain their hold on first place, and come into this series riding high after a pair of wins over the Tommies. St. Olaf has won its last four games, and opens this series at home. The play of goalie Henrik Wood will be key for the Oles. If Wood performs at the level he has as of late, he’ll give St. Olaf a chance to stay in first place. Augsburg is coming off two big wins over St. Mary’s, and the Auggies are in a position where they need a sweep to stay in contention for a league playoff spot. The Auggies haven’t been the most effective offensive team in the league, but they scored nine goals last weekend, including seven in one game, and the Auggies will have to be just as good on the offensive end this week to have a chance. St. Olaf 5-2, Augsburg 3-2