MIAC picks: Feb. 7

It’s time for another week of picks as we head into crunch time of the regular season.
I had a lot of success last week, going 6-2, which pushes my overall record to 55-47.
A lot is still on the line in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, including the conference championship. Five teams have five losses or less and things are going to be tight down the stretch. At this point, it comes down to which team wants it more and which team is going to make the big plays on both ends of the ice.
So without further delay, here are my picks for the week.
Thursday/Saturday, Feb. 7/Feb. 9
St. Olaf vs. St. John’s
The Oles come in as the top team in the league, sporting a 9-3 record, and they need to come out of this series with at least a split to maintain a share of first place. The home-and-home series begins on the road for the Oles. St. Olaf has played well, winning five of its last six, and there is no question that Jeff Harris (15 goals, eight assists) is going to need another big weekend for the Oles to succeed. If the Oles can capitalize on opportunities as they have lately, goalie Henrik Wood (353 saves) will take care of the rest. For St. John’s, it’s all about being competitive. They have lost just once in their last six outings, and have scored five or more goals twice during the stretch. The Johnnies have been very solid defensively, allowing only 46 goals on the year, and goalie Saxton Soley deserves a lot of credit for the success. Soley has racked up 348 saves on the season. St. John’s is too good defensively not to earn at least one win this weekend. St. John’s 5-3, St. Olaf 4-2.
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 8-9
Augsburg vs. Bethel
Both teams are desperate for wins coming into the weekend, as their hopes of a playoff berth ride on success from here on out. The Auggies have won three of four, including one over St. Olaf, and they should have confidence going into this series. They open it on the road, and need to be at their best defensively to succeed against the Royals. Bethel has given up 61 goals this year, but in its last three wins, it has limited the opponents to a combined four goals. Bethel has struggled to be consistent, and has lost five of its last six. The Royals have given up four or more goals in each of those losses, and they need to be on top of their game defensively to get a win. What would help is if the offense can score first and give the defense a boost of momentum. This is a series where Mitch Hughes (12 goals) needs to rise to the occasion. Bethel 3-1, Augsburg 5-2
Hamline at Concordia
Hamline plays two games on the road against Concordia this weekend, and is just looking to take a few more strides in order to have something to build on going into the offseason. The Pipers have dropped three straight and have struggled to stop opponents on the defensive end of the ice, giving up 16 total goals during the streak. What they need is a quick start offensively to give the defense something to work with. If that doesn’t happen, it will be tough to knock off Concordia on the road. The Cobbers are feeling a little better about themselves after snapping a three-game slide with a win over Gustavus Adolphus, and playing two straight at home should benefit them. If Chris Neamontis is on top of his game between the pipes, the Cobbers, who have racked up 62 goals on the year, including nine by Jordie Bancroft, should have enough in the tank offensively to take care of business. Concordia 5-1, 4-2
Gustavus vs. St. Mary’s
St Mary’s and Gustavus are fourth and fifth, respectively, in the conference standings, and they are both fighting for those last two spots in the conference tournament. The Cardinals ended a five-game winless streak with a 2-1 overtime victory against St. John’s last weekend, and perhaps that is the confidence boost they need going forward. Offensively, St. Mary’s has one of the top scoring threats in the league in Mike Hill, and if he can come up with a big weekend, the Cardinals are going to have a chance at winning at least one game. Hill has tallied 11 goals and 10 assists this season. St. Mary’s has to be consistent on offense. It was blanked three times during the slide, and that can’t happen on any night in this league if a team hopes to win. Gustavus will host the first game of the series, and comes in having won its last two games. The Gusties should be able to capitalize on playing at home, and on the fact that they have scored 11 goals in their last two outings. If they can continue that offensive success, they are going to be in good shape because they know they have a solid goalie in Tyler Venne (337 saves) to help take care of things on the defensive end of the ice. Gustavus 5-3, St. Mary’s 4-3