MCHA tournament preview

 (Tim Brule)

This weekend begins the MCHA postseason. Adrian and Marian earned a bye this weekend by being the top teams in their division. We’ll see them next weekend playing the winners who come out of the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs will host this year’s Harris Cup Four at the Arrington Ice Arena in Adrian, Mich.

Quarterfinals will take place with Lawrence hosting Northland and Milwaukee School of Engineering hosting Lake Forest. Both match-ups are sure to be exciting, with all teams excited and some relieved to have made it to the postseason.

I think Ryan McKelvie, coach of the Lake Forest Foresters, said it best this week, when he stated, “This is the best time of the year. This is what we’ve been working on all season, probably actually since the end of last season. We’ve done all the prep work on and off the ice and now we just need to put it together.”

No. 3 Northland at No. 2 Lawrence
The History
Lawrence will play host to Northland this weekend. The two teams have played each other in two series earlier this season, with the Vikings holding the 3-1-0 advantage. Their first meeting was on Nov. 9-10, with Lawrence taking the sweep on the road by 10-1 and 8-6 scores. In the most recent meeting played on Jan. 25-26, Lawrence was the host in a series that the two teams split. The Vikings topped the Lumberjacks, 4-1, in Friday’s game. Northland came back on Saturday night with a 4-3 victory.

“They will be very confident after beating us in our own building the last they were here,” Lawrence coach Mike Szkodzinksi said. “We like the way we are playing, but Northland will certainly be every bit as confident. This should be a great series.”

Northland coach Steve Fabiili echoed Szkodzinski’s remarks on the series.

“I hope we have some confidence coming from the last game playing them; going into their rink is always going to be a tough win,” Fabiili said, “Lawrence is a hardworking team from top to bottom.”

Northland College missed the playoffs last year, and is eager to have an opportunity to prove themselves in the postseason. The Lumberjacks are a team that turned around in the second half of the season after losing their opening five games in November.
The Lumberjacks had an impressive 5-4 overtime win against MSOE last weekend, which carried over to the locker room  for some confidence.

“They were really excited from the big win against MSOE and when they learned we made the playoffs,” said Fabiili. “The excitement carried over to Monday’s practice, but the excitement has turned into focus as the week goes on.”

Although the LumberJacks dropped Saturday’s contest to MSOE, they wanted to make the postseason so they had a chance at the Harris Cup.

With a tie and win over Lake Forest last weekend, Lawrence was able to secure home ice for the quarterfinals of the MCHA tournament. The Vikings have won four consecutive quarterfinal rounds, and are 5-1 in quarterfinal series under Szkodzinski.
Although Lawrence has history on its side, holding a 54-13-2 all-time record against Northland, the Vikings will not be taking this game loosely.

“We try to prepare the same every week. We need to make sure we are on the same page in each zone and have a high compete level,” said Szkodzinski. “We need to prepare like there is no tomorrow, because there isn’t if we don’t succeed this weekend.”

No. 3 Lake Forest at No. 2 MSOE
The History
The Foresters and Raiders have faced off against each other in the MCHA quarterfinals for the past three years, and this postseason proves to be no different. The 2009-10 quarterfinal round is the sole time Lake Forest has defeated MSOE to make it to the Harris Cup Four, which also marked their first year in the conference.

This season has already seen an exciting four games from the two teams. They battled to a 1-1 overtime tie and a 2-1 loss earlier this season. Their latest meeting on Feb. 8-9 had two overtime games. Friday’s game was a 1-1 overtime defensive battle. In Saturday’s thriller, MSOE took the 5-4 overtime win.

These quarterfinal games will be fast-paced, defensively strong, and very exciting.

Lake Forest
The Foresters are ending the regular season with a strong second half. They had a tie and a loss to Lawrence over the weekend, but the team is looking beyond that to the postseason.

“Our focus is to play our very best hockey this weekend,” said coach Ryan McKelvie, “We are facing a very good hockey team, but I think we’ve set the team up to give ourselves a really good chance this weekend.”

The locker room is also excited for this opportunity to play a familiar foe in the opening round of the playoffs.

“The series always has a competitive vibe and we are ready to go,” said junior forward Mike Violette. “They are our biggest rival. The team is very positive and energetic going into this weekend.”

Last weekend, the Raiders battled to a 5-4 overtime loss against Northland before slamming the Lumberjacks, 10-3, the following night.

The Raiders are the defending Harris Cup champions heading into this postseason. They made it to the semifinals in 2010-11. They are a team that has been the best of the best in the league, and has beat the best. The Raiders will want to reclaim that title this year.