Last weekend was a big one in the National College Hockey Association (NCHA), and for Lawrence University Men’s Hockey team (Vikings) (7-12-2, 6-8-2 NCHA) as well. Fighting for a playoff spot, the Vikings clashed with Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) (Raiders) (12-8-1, 7-8-1 NCHA) in a tight home-and-home series and came out on top.
On Friday, Feb. 5, the Raiders hosted the Vikings at the Kern Center in Milwaukee, where right from the start it was clearly not going to be an easy battle. After a scoreless first period, the Vikings got on the board first when senior Brandon Boelter fired one in 4:39 into the second. Senior Renato Engler and sophomore Lane King were credited with assists. The Raiders took a full period before responding with a goal of their own 5:55 into the third.
MSOE’s rough physical game brought several power play opportunities for the Vikings, one of which they capitalized on 9:49 in the third. Freshman Josh Koepplinger tallied the second Lawrence goal off assists from junior Ryan Eardley and sophomore Austin Frank, reclaiming the lead for the Vikings. When the Raiders got a power play of their own a few minutes later, they found the net with their man advantage to tie it up again, sending the game into overtime four minutes later.
Despite the Vikings’ 6-3 shot advantage in overtime, no more attempts found their mark, resulting in a 2-2 tie for the first game of the high-stakes series. MSOE consistently outshot the Vikings for most of the game, but the quality of those attempts were not good enough to get past junior goaltender Mattias Soderqvist, who earned 44 saves for the night. Raider goaltender Nick Kohn made 34 saves, and his team outshot the Vikings 46-36. Both teams went 1-for-4 on the power play.
Saturday, Feb. 6, brought the Raiders to Appleton Family Ice Center to conclude the series on the Vikings’ home ice. Similarly to the previous night, the first period started off with a lot of digging by both teams, but no goals on either end. Lawrence logged their second power play goal of the series 12:37 into the second period, when senior Matt Moore scored off assists from Boelter and fellow senior Ryan Rumble. MSOE retaliated quickly, slipping one past the Viking defense at 15:02 to tie it up.
After the second intermission, the Vikings returned to the ice determined to recapture their lead and claim the victory they so desperately needed. Still 3 points ahead of them in NCHA North Division standings, the Raiders were holding onto the third place position needed to secure that playoff spot. This win would earn the Vikings 2 points and put them within 1 of the Raiders. They wanted it. They needed it. Freshman Nick Felan scored the goal that got his team those 2 points just 3:34 into the third period, off Engler and King assists. The Vikings held off the Raiders for the remainder of the period to earn a much-needed 2-1 victory.
Soderqvist made a big difference for the Vikings, recording 46 saves for the night to Kohn’s 29. MSOE again outshot Lawrence 47-31, but went 0-for-5 on the power play to the Vikings’ 1-for-6.
Other notable action in the NCHA last weekend included now-No. 3 Adrian College’s (17-3-1, 13-2-1 NCHA) 6-4 nonconference loss to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (18-4-1, currently No. 4 in the nation), St. Norbert College’s (18-2-1, 14-2 NCHA) ascent to the No. 1 spot in the national Division III rankings, and Marian University (Sabres)’s (15-5-3, 13-4-1 NCHA) continuing 10-game win streak that contributed to their massive point accumulation in the past month. The Sabres, who also made the national list at No. 12 this week, are tied with Adrian for first place in the NCHA South Division with 27 points, just one point away from the Green Knights, who have 28 points and are sitting first in the North Division 4 points ahead of College of St. Scholastica (14-5-2, 12-4 NCHA, now No. 15 nationally). The remaining battles this season will be for those third place spots, currently held by MSOE in the North Division with 15 points and by Concordia University Wisconsin (10-9-2, 6-8-2 NCHA) in the South Division with 14.
Lawrence’s 14 points places them fourth in the North Division by a slim margin, and this weekend’s road series against Northland College (7-13-1, 6-10 NCHA) is a good opportunity to keep pace with the Raiders, who take on Aurora University (2-18-1, 2-13-1 NCHA) this weekend and St. Norbert next weekend. The final series of the regular season for the Vikings will be against Lake Forest College (7-14, 5-11 NCHA) the weekend of Feb. 19 and 20, so the journey is certainly not over and the road ahead will not be an easy one.
The puck will drop at Northland in Ashland, Wisc, at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13.