‘No easy games’ in the MIAC as ‘everyone is good’

Alex Altenbernd contributed his share of offense last season for St. Thomas and will be a catalyst again in 2014-15 (photo: Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas).

St. Thomas head coach Jeff Boeser wanted his top assistant, Parker Burgess, to do the inteview about the season ahead.

As far as the Tommies are concerned, it really doesn’t matter who does the talking. The resutls speak for themselves.

St. Thomas enters the year as the favorite to win the MIAC. The Tommies have won the last three championships.

But being the favorite means a target is on the back of the Tommies.

“We know we are going to get everyone’s best shot,” said Burgess. “There are no easy games. Everyone is good.”

The Tommies are poisedfor another title run, both at the conference level and the national. They lost only three seniors and have one of the best players in the league back in All-American Alex Altenbernd, who led the team in goals (11).

Michael Krieg and Drew Fielding were also All-Americans, with Fielding, a goalie, earning co-player of the year honors in the MIAC.

“We have lofty goals – we want to win a national championship,” Burgess said. “But we have stressed to the players that it’s a step-by-step process. You have to keep getting better and peak at the right time.”

There are no shortage of challengers in the MIAC. Gustavus-Adolphus finished just one point behind St. Thomas in the standings and lost to the Tommies by a goal in the MIAC title game. The Gusties have the talent to make another run. One of the keys to its success will be goalie John McLean.

St. John’s and St. Olaf are both coming off appearances in the MIAC semifinals. The Johnnies will be led by John Haeg, who has led the team in scoring the last three years. Saxton Soley is one of the top goalies in the league.

The Oles will look to be one of the better offensive teams in the league again, and helping that cause will be Peter Lindblad, who finished with 15 goals last year.

Concordia (Minn.) played in the conference tournament as well last year and will look to be even better this season. The Cobbers are led by Andrew Deters, an All-MIAC pick who scored 34 points.

Augsburg won 13 games and didn’t make the tourney, but its fortunes could change this year. The Auggies welcome back seven players who racked up 10 or more points last season.

Bethel, Hamline and St. Mary’s all struggled a year ago, but on any given night, they are more than capable of knocking off anyone.

The Royals have 16 newcomers, but also has its top three scorers, back including Brock Raffaele (20 points).

Hamline is under the direction of a new coach in Cory Laylin after spending the last two years as an assistant. He was an assistant with the Pipers from 2008 until 2010 when they played in the MIAC tourney twice.

St. Mary’s lost 11 players to graduation, but have a rising young goalie, Phil Heinle, to help them push for a winning season.

But talent only goes so far. In the end, it’s about being able to survive the grind.

“Division III hockey, in general, is being played at an all-time high level across the board,” Augsburg coach Chris Brown said. “Every game is a grind because on most, if not all nights, you are going to be in a 60-minute contest. I think the team that comes out on top in our league will have a chance to win it all.”

 

Augsburg

Nickname: Auggies

2013-14 Record: 13-9-3 overall, 6-7-3 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Did not qualify

Head Coach: Chris Brown (88-99-18, 9th season)

Key Returning Players: F Mark Ohnsted (6-19–25); F Ben McClellan (15-6–21); G John Bretzman (2.67 GAA)

Key Departures: D Chris Student (1-11–12); F Niklas Almstrom (10-8–18); F B.J. McClellan (3-4–7)

Thoughts: The Auggies are poised to be a contender for the conference title this year its leaders in goals and assists from last season are both back. Mark Ohnsted dished out 19 assists last season and scored a goal or assist in 18 games. Ben McClellan led the team in goals a year ago, tallying 15, and came through with three multiple point games. The Auggies should be in good shape offensively as seven players who tallied 10 or more points a year ago are back for a team that averaged 3.16 goals per game. Goalie John Bretzman also returns after saving nearly 90 percent of the shots he faced. Augsburg should also get a lift from several newcomers, including forward Evan Hesse, who scored 16 goals and dished out 28 assists for the Brookings Blizzard of the NAHL last season.

 

Bethel

Nickname: Royals

2013-14 Record: 3-20-2 overall, 2-13-1 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Did not qualify

Head Coach: Charlie Burggraf (22-70-8, 5th season)

Key Returning Players: C Brock Raffaele (8-12–20); W Travis Payne (10-9–19); W Mitch Hughes (6-6–12) D Eric Szafranski (2-7–9); D Tony Larson (2-7–9) G Matt Rowe (3.52 GAA)

Key Departures: F Colin Mayer (4-4–8); D Tyler Swanson (1-4–5); D Tyler Sorenson (1-4–5); F Garrett Windle (1-2–3)

Thoughts: The Royals return their top three scorers. Brock Raffaele led the team in points while Payne scored the most goals. Hughes was third on the team in points. Those three will need to be at their best each night if the Royals are going to improve. Bethel needs to be more productive on both ends of the ice after scoring 45 goals and allowing 80 last season. Goalie Matt Rowe need to elevate his level of play with the loss of Steven Bolton. Rowe played in two games last year and gave up seven goals while tallying 66 saves. It will take time for the Royals to click as 16 newcomers are on the roster, including forward Jackson Purvis, defenseman JT Walters, forward Taylor Brown and forward Justin Bonanno, but the Royals will have an opportunity to be a better team than they were a year ago.

Concordia (Minn.)

Nickname: Cobbers

2013-14 Record: 12-9-5 overall, 6-6-4 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Lost 5-3 to St. Olaf in opening round of MIAC tournament

Head Coach: Chris Howe (55-78-21, 7th season)

Key Returning Players: F Andrew Deters (10-24–34); F Jordan Bancroft (9-18–27); F Garrett Hendrickson (10-13–23)

Key Departures: D Caleb Suderman (16-14–30); G Chris Neamonitis (2.57 GAA)

Thoughts: Replacing the co-MVP of the MIAC in Caleb Suderman, the highest scoring defenseman in the nation last season, won’t be easy, but the Cobbers have enough talent back to have another strong season. The Cobbers have played in the conference tournament three of the last four seasons, including the last two. Back to lead the way is Andrew Deters, who tallied 34 points, tied for the most in conference games. Deter was an All-MIAC selection. Jordan Bancroft also earned All-MIAC honors and was third on the team in scoring. Garrett Hendrickson is coming off a successful freshman campaign where he was on the league’s all-rookie team. He was the top scoring freshman in the league with 23 points. Finding a goalie will be key as the Cobbers lost Chris Neamonitis to graduation. He was third in the league in save percentage.

 

Hamline

Nickname: Pipers

2013-14 Record: 2-22-1 overall, 1-15 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Did not qualify

Head Coach: Cory Laylin (1st season)

Key Returning Players: F Kevin Novakovich (9-8–17); D Joe Rubbelke (2-9–11); F Brandon Zurn (5-10–15)

Key Departures: None

Thoughts: Head coach Cory Laylin spent two seasons as an assistant at Hamline and is now back to lead the Pipers. During his first go-round at the school from 2008-10, the Pipers won 32 games and played in the MIAC tournament twice, including a title game appearance in 2009. Laylin’s top assistant, Joe Long, is a 2009 Hamline grad and tallied 52 goals and 54 assists in his four-year career. It won’t be easy building the Pipers into a contender again, but he does have a few pieces in place to help on the journey ahead. Joe Rubbelke is back after earning All-MIAC honors last season while Kevin Novakovich is coming off a year where he was the team’s leading scorer. Brandon Zurn will also provide a lift to an offense that managed to score only 40 goals last season. Hamline has also brought in a talented cast of newcomers, including Nebraska-Omaha transfer Charlie Adams and Army transfer Jonathan Gehrt. Hamline should take steps forward this year and be much more competitive than it was a season ago.

 

Gustavus Adolphus

Nickname: Golden Gusties

2013-14 Record: 16-7-4 overall, 12-3-1 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Lost 2-1 to St. Thomas in MIAC championship game.

Head Coach: Brett Petersen (198-148-32, 15th season)

Key Returning Players: G John McLean (1.97 GAA); F Tyler Lapic (6-11–17)

Key Departures: F Corey Leivermann (18-12–30); F Adam Smyth (11-8–19)

Thoughts: Gustavus is coming off a remarkable season where it finished just one point behind conference champion St. Thomas in the final standings. The Gusties made a run at the MIAC tourney title as well, losing by a goal to the Tommies. But expectations will be as high as usual, especially with John McClean back in goal. The junior won 15 games last season. Offensively, Tyler Lapic will be counted on to pave the way. He was the third-leading scorer on the team last season. Finding a solid supporting cast will be key as no one else back scored more than five goals last year. Forwards Jack Walsh and Andy Pearson could be key to the offensive success as they combined for 19 assists last year, including 10 by Pearson. One player who could provide a lift defensively is freshman Jake Bushey, who played in Fairbanks last year and helped the Ice Dogs clinch the NAHL’s Robertson Cup.

 

St. John’s

Nickname: Johnnies

2013-14 Record: 16-10 overall, 10-6 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Lost 3-2 to Gustavus in semifinal round of MIAC tournament

Head Coach: Doug Schueller (68-74-13, 7th season)

Key Returning Players: F John Haeg (8-16–24); F Phil Johnson (7-7–14); D Nick Senta (2-10–12); G Saxton Soley (2.02 GAA)

Key Departures: F Josh Gross (7-11–18); F Justin Hochsprung (3-9–12); D Trent Johnson (2-5–7); D Axel Ramsgard (0-4–4)

Thoughts: The return of John Haeg is huge for the Johnnies as they look to contend for a MIAC championship. Haeg, a three-time all-conference selection, is coming off his third consecutive season of leading St. John’s in points and is poised for another big year. Phil Johnson is also a key scoring threat and a two-time All-MIAC pick. The Johnnies, who scored 69 goals last season, also welcome back their top defenseman in Nick Senta, a first-team all-league selection last year. Limiting an opponent’s goals shouldn’t be a problem with Saxton Soley back between the pipes. Soley is one of the top goalies in the league and is already seventh in school history in wins (29). Newcomers Tyler Dunagan and Huba Sekesi should make an immediate impact. Both have more than 100 games of experience in the NAHL.

 

St. Olaf

Nickname: Oles

2013-14 Record: 12-11-4 overall, 9-4-3 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Lost 2-1 to St. Thomas in semifinal round of conference tournament.

Head Coach: Sean Goldsworthy (182-204-55, 18th season)

Key Returning Players: G Steve Papciak (2.45 GAA); F Peter Lindblad (15-7–22); F Steven Sherman (4-14–18); F David Rath (6-10–16); F Mark Rath (7-7–14)

Key Departures: F Dan Cecka (18-13–31)

Thoughts: The Oles featured one of the top offenses in the league scoring 81 goals a year ago, but duplicating that success won’t be easy with the loss of Dan Cecka. Still, it’s not as if St. Olaf is going into the year without experience. Several scoring threats are back, including Peter Lindblad, who came through 15 goals last season. Steven Sherman, David Rath and Mark Rath have all proven they can produce offensively, and their presence should help the Oles be right back in the mix for a league title this year. Contending for a title requires an experienced goalie as well, and the Oles have one in senior Steve Papciak. He allowed just 2.45 goals per game and owned a save percentage of over 90 percent. If he is on top of his game, the Oles will be in position to be one of the top teams in the conference again.

 

St. Mary’s

Nickname: Cardinals

2013-14 Record: 10-14-1 overall, 6-10 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Did Not Qualify

Head Coach: Bill Moore (49-118-9, 8th season)

Key Returning Players: D Bob Marx (10-7–17); F Martin Gruse (6-11–17); F Nick Albergo (9-7–16)

Key Departures: F Bobby Thompson (10-10–20); F Austin Balko (4-5–9); F Nick Nagel (6-7–13)

Thoughts: Although the Cardinals have lost their top goal scorer in Bobby Thompson, the good news is they have three key players back, including senior defenseman Bob Marx. Marx scored 10 goals and dished out seven assists last year, ranking second among defensemen in the league in scoring. Martin Gruse also returns after leading the Cardinals in assists and Nick Albergo is also back. Those three should help soften the blow of losing 11 players to graduation. Phil Heinle should be able to build on what he did last season after racking up 341 saves in 12 games. Heinle allowed 36 goals and went 6-3-1 during his freshman campaign. The Cardinals closed out last season with three consecutive wins, and if they can win the close games — 13 were decided by two goals or less — they should be poised to take a big step forward.

 

St. Thomas

Nickname: Tommies

2013-14 Record: 21-5-2 overall, 13-1-2 MIAC

2013-14 Postseason: Won MIAC tournament but lost 3-0 to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in quarterfinal round of NCAA tournament.

Head Coach: Jeff Boeser (66-32-8, 5th season)

Key Returning Players: F Alex Altenbernd (11-13–24); D Michael Krieg (3-7–10); D Jeremy Hepler (3-7–10); D John Kirtland (0-2–2); G Drew Fielding (1.43 GAA)

Key Departures: F Tyler Gubb (8-12–20); F Alex Niestrom (9-2–11); F Bryce Walker (1-5–6)

Thoughts: St. Thomas lost only three seniors and is ready to take aim at its fourth consecutive conference championship. Leading the way will be three All-Americans in Alex Altenbernd, Michael Krieg and Drew Fielding, who was the co-player of the year in the MIAC. Altenbernd led the team in goals (11) while Krieg is a two-time All-MIAC selection. Fielding has 39 wins in his career and is set to make the most of his senior season. The Tommies have the talent to be one of the more balanced teams in the nation, and they have a defense that is expected to be equally impressive. Last season, St. Thomas scored 82 goals — 19 players scored at least one — and only allowed 41. The Tommies not only have plenty of talent coming back, but they are bringing in a strong recruiting class. Four of the newcomers are Division I transfers in Willie Faust (Army), Bobby Murphy (Alaska-Anchorage), Joakim Broberg (Alabama-Huntsville) and D.J. Jones (Bemidji State).

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