On Saturday, March 2, the Saint John’s University hockey team defeated Gustavus Adolphus College 3-2 in front of a packed house to win the MIAC Playoff Championship and clinch a berth to the NCAA playoffs.
Nearly 1,400 students and fans flooded the National Hockey Center in Saint Cloud to watch two top-contenders battle it out, matching each other goal-for-goal. Goals scored by junior Jason Johnson and sophomore Nick Senta were matched by the Gusties until junior Justin Hochsprung planted the game winner with 3:17 to go in the third period.
He claims that there was never a point in the game in which the team lost focus.
“No, the game never seemed in doubt, even when they tied it up,” Hochsrung said. “We have experienced a lot of adversity throughout this year and fought through it. No one took Gustavus for granted; we knew coming into this one that it would take a full game’s effort to pull through. We knew we had to just keep playing our game and things would fall our way.”
Hochsprung believes that concentrating on the fundamentals would ultimately lock up the victory.
“Our team knows that when we play our game and only worry about what we’re doing we can beat anybody,” Hochsrung said. “So we’re just trying to keep doing what has gotten us this far.”
Achieving this kind of success was not an overnight process. The Johnnies finish up this year with a solid record of 16-7-4, while last year they only went 11-13-2.
“Goaltending has been key for us this year, so much so that a first-year goalie received the player of the year award,” head coach Doug Schueller said. “We’re also rotating through four different lines that can be successful at any time. Our depth has been a major factor for our positive results this year.”
“Since last season, one of the biggest improvements our team has made is the way we train off the ice,” Hoschrung said. “We have a new strength coach, Kevin Ziegler, and he has really improved our conditioning as a team. The guys take the workouts seriously and we feel a lot more capable as a result.”
With each additional goal the fans erupted with enthusiasm, peaking, of course, with Hoschrung’s game-ending effort. The scope of the moment is certainly not lost on him.
“It felt great to score that goal,” Hoschrung said. “Honestly, it was probably the biggest goal of my life so far. It was amazing to hear all of the unreal fans of ours go crazy when it went in. It was nuts. I will never forget it.”
“It was awesome,” Schueller said. “We had outstanding support. I knew the Johnnies would be out to support the team if we started winning, which we certainly did. All of the students showing up gave a lot of positive support, and were a really big factor in getting the win for our program.”
It has been a long time since Schueller has experienced this level of success. This was the Johnnies’ first MIAC playoff title since 2003, and stands as their first tournament bid since 2005. He describes the night fondly, and the winning moment will stay with him as much as any of the players.
“It was really an amazing combination of the way in which the goal was scored and the talented individual who scored it,” Schueller said. “Justin has worked very hard to get to this level and we’re certainly happy to see things work out for him.”
Unfortunately for the Johnnies, their season came to an abrupt end Wednesday night. St. John’s lost 4-2 to Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, bringing the team’s all-time record against the Blugolds in Eau Claire to 2-8.