Al Rogers grew up out East. So when he and his Saint Mary’s teammates came away from the Oswego State Hockey Classic with the championship in its possession, it had a little extra meaning for the Cardinals goalie.
To sweeten the deal, Rogers was named MVP of the tournament, allowing just two goals in wins over nationally ranked Oswego State (1-0) and Williams (4-2).
“I’m from Connecticut and it was great to go out there and win it,” Rogers said. “I know some of the players on those teams. “We were able to show that we are the type of team we thought we could be.”
Teammate Tommy Stang, who scored the lone goal against Oswego State, was just as thrilled about the accomplishment.
“To go up against two ranked teams and win, we were really excited about it,” Stang said. It was big for us. It put us on the map and turned some heads.”
The Cardinals have won their last three games and have evened their overall record at 5-5-1. They are in a much better spot than when it opened the season with just two wins in its first eight games.Saint Mary’s closed the first half with a 5-4 overtime win against Gustavus.
“We did struggle in that first half, but after the break, we really reset and refocused and have come out ready to go,” Stang said.
For Rogers, who has started the last three games and is 3-1 overall on the year, the turnaround is in part due to the effort of the defense.
“I feel like the team is playing really well together,” Rogers said. “The defense was clearing shots and blocking pucks. They did a great job in front of me.”
Stang has been an integral part of the offense. He and his brother, Jack, are the top two scorers on the team. Jack leads the way with three goals and nine assists. Tommy has come through with five goals and six assists. Six different players have scored two or more goals.
“We have a lot of support on this team,” Stang said. “We do a great job of communicating and just talking things out rather than jumping on each other for mistakes”
Tommy, a junior, enjoys having the chance to play with his brother. He actually opted out of his final season of junior hockey to be able to play with Jack, a senior, for three seasons.
Tommy said prior to college, the two really haven’t had a lot of time to play on the same team throughout their careers.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun,” Tommy said. “Being two years older, he was always ahead of me. We’ve always been competitive and have a deep connection, but it’s not about who has better stats anymore. We just enjoy playing together and are having a great time being a part of the same team.”
This season is one that could turn out to be special for the Cardinals, who are very much in the hunt for a MIAC championship. Saint Mary’s is tied for third with nine points. They are 3-1 in conference play.
Rogers and Stang are confident the Cardinals can accomplish a lot, but they know nothing comes easy in a league that is balanced from top to bottom.
“Anyone can be beat on any given night. We understand you have to be ready to play. We still have a long way to go. We want to turn more heads. That’s what is driving us,” Rogers said.
Rogers knows the importance of hard work as well as anyone. He said his work ethic is the reason he’s become a much better goalie this season.
As for Stang, who said he’s emerged as a bigger playmaker this season, noted the key to building on what they accomplished this past weekend comes down to hard work.
“Our practices are high tempo and the work we put in translates to games,” Stang said. “We have to focus on what we do well and what we need to work on, and be prepared for every game. Hopefully that will elevate us to another level.”
One thing is for sure, the Cardinals have confidence in themselves.
“I think we have a team that has a lot of belief in themselves,” Saint Mary’s head coach Ryan Egan said. “Our group is learning that if we play the right way within ourselves and our structure, that we are capable of some great things. I am eager to see how we handle the recent success and see if we can continue to improve and find ways to create positive outcomes.”
Around the West Region
Saint John’s has two players among the top five in points in the MIAC. Kyle Wagner has come through with 14 points this season, good enough for second, and Davis Kirkendall is tied for third with 12 points.
Jackson Bond of Hamline is not only the MIAC leader in points, but he leads the conference in goals as well (8) and is tied for second in assists (9).
Daniil Gerasimov has the best goals against average in the MIAC. The Augsburg goalie boasts a GAA of 1.00. Sam Nelson of Saint John’s leads the conference in saves (318).
Wisconsin-Superior leads the WIAC in goals scored this season with 53 and its second in goals allowed at 24. The Yellow Jackets have been solid moving the puck around as well, tallying a league-best 91 assists, which translates into an average of seven assists per game.
Wisconsin-River Falls has two of the top five goal scorers in the WIAC in Andrew Durham and Ryan Cusin. Durham has come through with nine goals this season. Cusin has punched in eight goals.
Lake Forest and St. Norbert are the hottest teams in the NCHA. The Foresters have won their last six games and lead the South Division while the Green Knights have pieced together a five-game win streak.
Braydon Barker has the most points in the NCHA, recording 22, including 16 off assists. Barker leads the conference in assists. Kurt Black of St. Norbert leads the way in goals in the conference, punching in 11 on the year.
In the Poll: Four teams in the West region are ranked this week in the national poll, including two in the top five. Wisconsin-Eau Claire is third in the nation and Augsburg is fifth. Lake Forest and Adrian are 11th and 12th, respectively.