This Week in College Hockey: Wagner, Johnnies motivated as MIAC tourney nears

Kyle Wagner is the team leader in points at Saint John’s once again. (Photo by Sean Donohue)

Three games. That’s how many are guaranteed for Kyle Wagner and his senior teammates at Saint John’s.

Understandably, there is added motivation for him at this point. The Johnnies star is determined to make each one count.

“You are kind of that point where you realize your hockey career here is coming to an end. It really ignites more fire in us. Us seniors, we want to end playing our hardest and playing our best.”

As if that isn’t enough motivation, there is also the reminder of last year still very much on the mind of Wagner, a forward who leads the team in points (23) and was a first-team All-MIAC selection a year ago.

Saint John’s reached the title game of the MIAC tournament and gave eventual champion Augsburg all it could handle in a four-overtime game that ended with a 2-1 loss.

“Oh yeah, there is an extremely sour taste in our mouth from last year,” Wagner said. “The guys that played in that game that are back understand the playoffs is a different kind of intensity level and a whole different speed. Even though we lost it was a valuable experience. We know what it’s going to take to turn it around this time and win.”

Wagner has played a pivotal role in helping the Johnnies build momentum as they inch closer to the start of the MIAC tournament. Saint John’s has won its last three games and sits just two points out of first place heading into the final weekend series of the regular season against Saint Mary’s.

Wagner has been more aggressive as of late, getting off two or more shots four times in the last five outings and it’s led to one goal and four assists in that stretch.

“That’s been huge for my confidence,” Wagner said.

Of the 23 points Wagner has tallied, 18 have come off assists. Last season, he managed 25 points, which led the team, and he came through with 21 assists. The five goals he has scored this season are a career-high at the college level.

“I’m shooting the puck more. I’ve always known I had a good shot, but I’ve always been a pass first type of player,” Wagner said. “I’m getting shots to the net and good things are happening. I don’t have the goal total I feel I could have, but I’m getting chances. And that’s leading to points.”

Wagner said the offense gets a boost from having two netminders it knows it can count on. Mac Berglove and Andrew Lindgren have both seen plenty of time between the pipes and either is capable of stepping up on any given night.

“We have the best goalie tandem around. Those two are so competitive and it’s nice having that insurance policy on the back end. We have so much confidence in them,” Wagner said. “We know when we are scoring goals and our goalies are playing well, we can be an extremely hard team to beat.”

Saint John’s has endured its share of ups and downs to find itself at 10-8-5 overall and 7-3-4 in the MIAC. There was one point in November where it went winless in six consecutive games. The Johnnies have gone 8-3-1 since then. The big key has been health, something the Johnnies battled during that tough stretch. And everyone understands their job.

“Everyone knows their roles,” Wagner said. “We know what to do to help the team win every night.”

Saint John’s has been close to a MIAC title the last two years. The Johnnies fell 4-3 to Augsburg in the semifinal round of the tourney in 2018 before falling short in an epic two-hour-plus battle last season in the championship game.

“We want a MIAC championship so bad,” Wagner said. “We’ve gotten close. We don’t want to leave here without one. I think it comes down to us, especially the seniors, playing our best. Hopefully there will be smiles at the end of it.”

Around the West Region

Caleb Anderson is the points leader in the MIAC. The Gustavus star has tallied 30 on the season, scoring a league-leading 16 goals. Anderson, who has scored two or more goals in a game three times this year, has helped put the Gusties in a position to punch a ticket to the MIAC tournament. Gustavus sits in a tie for fourth in the standings with St. Thomas.

Daniil Gerasimov of Augsburg is the top netminder in the conference. He has played in all 18 games for the first-place Auggies and owns an impressive goals against average of 1.85. He has made 472 saves, including 27 or more in each of the last four games.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point ends the regular season on a 13-game unbeaten streak and is looking like a team that could very well make another run at an NCAA championship if it gets a bid. The Pointers have cranked out a league-leading 105 goals. Luke McElhenie leads the way with 16 goals on the year.

Christian Hausinger of Wisconsin-River Falls ends the regular season as the points leader in the WIAC. He has scored just nine goals but has come through with 25 assists. Six of his goals have come off the power play. He’s recorded a pair of hat tricks as well for the Falcons, who have an opportunity to make a run at the WIAC tourney title.

Adrian continues to light it up offensively. The Bulldogs lead the NCHA in goals scored with 125 on the year. They are one of five teams in the conference that has scored 90 or more goals on the year. Fifteen times this season Adrian has scored five or more goals in a game and that includes in the last five games.

Peter Bates ended the regular season as the NCHA leader in points. The St. Norbert standout tallied 36 points in all, one of eight players in the conference with 30 or more points. Bates saw his streak of 16 consecutive games with at least one point end in last weekend’s series against Lawrence. He’ll have a chance to get a new one started in the postseason when it begins this weekend.