One last look at D-III college hockey in the west region


Brett Gravelle is the first from St. Thomas in 12 seasons to reach the 100-point mark. (Liam Doyle/St. Thomas)

Brett Gravelle and St. Thomas could very easily be playing for a spot in the national semifinals this weekend.

The Tommies became the first four seed in MIAC history to win the conference tournament and were set to play Lake Forest last week. The winner would have moved on to play Wisconsin-Eau Claire tonight in the quarterfinal round.

No one will ever know how the tourney would have played out for the Tommies or any of the other teams, but Gravelle does know it’s a tough way for the year to end.

Concerns over coronavirus (COVID-19) forced the NCAA to cancel all winter and spring sports championship events.

“It’s sad. There’s nothing else to say, especially with this being the first time we’ve made it since I’ve been here,” Gravelle said. “But I try to look at the big picture and it gives me peace of mind that we went out with a win.”

Gravelle played a pivotal role for the Tommies this year in their run to a MIAC crown. 

He played in 24 games after shaking off an early-season injury, scoring nine goals while dishing out 18 assists to lead St. Thomas, which won its final five games and finished 15-10-3. 

“It’s been one of the more up and down seasons for me. The injury set me back a little bit, but down the stretch I played well and we played well as a team,” Gravelle said.

Gravelle ended up as a three-time All-MIAC selection and is the first from St. Thomas in 12 seasons to reach the 100-point mark. He finished his career with 113, including 63 off assists.

 “I’ve had an unbelievable opportunity here and it’s been incredible to go through these last four seasons with my teammates,” Gravelle said. “I’m thankful I had a chance to play hockey at St. Thomas.”

He isn’t sure what the future holds. He’d love to play at the next level but that’s on hold for now in the wake of COVID-19.

“It throws a wrench into everything because I can’t go and try out right now,” Gravelle said. “Hopefully the right opportunity comes along and I get a shot.”

One last trip around the West Region

No league was tighter than the MIAC. Saint John’s won the regular-season championship by a narrow margin, edging Concordia by a point.

But it was the Tommies who skated their way to the title for the first time since 2014 with a 3-2 win over the Cobbers.

How tight was the league this year? Four teams won at least nine MIAC games, with Concordia leading the way by notching 10 wins.

St. Thomas ended the year on a five-game win streak and won 10 road games this season. The Tommies were also impressive in close games, going 8-3 in one-goal battles.

Caleb Anderson of Gustavus led the way offensively in the MIAC, tallying 34 points, including 16 off goals. Augsburg’s Daniil Gerasimov had the top goals against average (2.02) in the conference.

With the way things started in the NCHA, it didn’t look like Adrian or St. Norbert would play for the title. The Bulldogs went winless in five consecutive games to start 2020 but a 3-2 win over St. Norbert on Jan. 18 was the first of 13 consecutive victories. The streak was punctuated in similar fashion as the Bulldogs beat the Green Knights 3-2 to win the Harris Cup.

St. Norbert had won four in a row before that loss to Adrian in the title game. Its success down the stretch was a stark contrast to the beginning of the season when the Green Knights went 2-7 in their first nine games.

Marian and Lake Forest were legit contenders throughout the year,  but it ended up being business as usual in the finale as the Bulldogs and Green Knights met for a fifth consecutive year. Adrian won its first title since 2016.

Peter Bates of St. Norbert had the most points this season (40) while teammate Kurt Black finished with 21 goals to lead the league in the category. Colby Entz of the Green Knights fashioned a 1.88 GAA. Keep in mind he’s just a freshman.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point shook off a tough start to its year, going 5-6-1 in its first 11 games. But a sweep of UW-Eau Claire in mid-December was the beginning of a remarkable run for the reigning national champions. The Pointers put together a 15-game unbeaten streak, winning 13 of those games, and reached the championship game of the WIAC tournament.

UW-Eau Claire got its revenge in the title game, taking out the Pointers 4-2 for their first win of the season over their rival. The Blugolds had gone 0-1-2 in the previous three games against the Pointers.

UW-Eau Claire defeated UW-Stevens Point 4-2 in the championship game and earned an at-large bid to the tourney. The Blugolds were the most consistent team in the region from start to finish and won their first Commissioner’s Cup since 2016 and their third overall in program history. They finished the season with 19 wins.

Christian Hausinger of Wisconsin-River Falls ended the year as the top offensive threat in the conference, scoring 10 goals and dishing out 26 assists. Not bad for a defenseman.

Luke McElhenie had the most goals in the WIAC, scoring 17, and Zach Dyment proved to be the goalie this season, carving out a 1.53 GAA this season for the Blugolds.