A lot of meaningful hockey ahead in D-III West region

Daniil Gerasimov has helped put Augsburg in the hunt for another MIAC title. (Photo courtesy of Augsburg Athletics)

Here we go hockey fans. The second half of the season is about to begin.

The west region of the Division III hockey world has an interesting look and is shaping up to be as competitive as ever.

Check out a few of the storylines to keep an eye on over the final few months of the season.

MIAC race following familiar script.

Yes, a familiar team is atop the standings. Augsburg is in control of its own destiny at the moment, sitting in first place and looking like a team that has a legit shot at winning its fifth consecutive conference tournament crown.

The Auggies have two of the top offensive threats in the league in Austin Marinsen — he ranks fifth in points (11) — and Gavin Holland, who is tied for second in the MIAC in goals scored (6).

Augsburg also features one of the top goalies in the MIAC in Daniil Gerasimov. He sports a league-leading goals against average of 1.00 and has the best save percentage in the MIAC as well at .964. Gerasimov has won six games this season.

As good as Augsburg has been, the road to the MIAC championship isn’t an easy one.

St. Thomas is just three points behind the Auggies and four other teams are within a point of each other while the eighth team in the standings (Hamline) is just four points back of Saint Mary’s and Bethel, who are tied for third. It’s worth noting about Bethel that the Royals are on their way to topping last season’s win total. The Royals won only four games last year. They are 3-8-2 heading into 2020.

There’s a good chance the league title won’t be decided until the final weekend, and it’s a safe bet positioning for a spot in the conference tournament will go right down to the wire. 

WIAC is wide-open

Wisconsin-Eau Claire was on a roll most of the first half of the season, winning 10 consecutive games at one point.

The Blugolds saw that streak end two weeks ago in a series against Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which had struggled at times in the first half. The reigning national champions came to life against their rival and took both games of a series from the Blugolds, winning 4-2 and 3-0.

The lesson: don’t count the Pointers out just yet. 

UW-Stevens Point had dropped four of five heading into the showdown with UW-Eau Claire, looking like a team with no chance to contend. But taking those games from the Blugolds provided a huge boost of momentum. The two teams will play once more on Jan. 22 and the title could be on the line that night.

While the Pointers and Blugolds are regular contenders in the conference, don’t rule out the possibility of Wisconsin-Superior ending up as a surprise champion in the WIAC.

The Yellow Jackets are 9-2-1 and unbeaten in their last four games. They rank second in the conference in goals with 48 and they are the league-leader in assists with 82.

And keep in mind that UW-Superior beat UW-Stevens Point 4-2 and took UW-Eau Claire to overtime before falling 3-2. 

The fate of the Yellow Jackets will be determined at the end of the month when it plays a two-game series against the Blugolds and Pointers on back-to-back weekends.

Anything is possible in the NCHA

Of the three conferences in the region, the NCHA might have had the most interesting first half. Adrian, a national power, is tied with Lake Forest for first place in the South Division while Aurora is on the heels of both teams, just a point behind in the standings.The Spartans have two players among the top five in the league in goal scoring as Connor Chilton and Riley Doyon both have eight goals apiece.

Trine is in the mix as well in the division, having its best season yet as a member of the NCHA. With six wins, the Thunder is well on its way to topping last season’s win total (10). Brett Young has a played a key role in the success, sporting a 2.23 goals against average.

In the South Division, the story is a little different. Marian is clinging to a one-point lead over St. Scholastica for the top spot. Reigning league champ St. Norbert has gotten off to a bit of a tough start, sitting below .500 with a 5-7 record. 

The Green Knights are 3-5 in NCHA play. Yet, they are hardly out of it. Not when they have the experience and understanding of what it takes to make a push for a title. Plus, they have one of the top goal scorers in the NCHA in Kurt Black, who is tied for the league-lead with eight.

Just how tight is the South Division race, though? Consider that Lawrence is just three points out of first place and Finlandia is just four points back.

A lot of meaningful hockey is ahead leading into the conference tournaments and the likelihood of all three conferences not having their championships decided until the final weekend is high.

As of right now, the usual suspects in the MIAC, WIAC and NCHA could prevail or surprise champions could emerge when it’s all said and done.