By Kevin Dudley – [email protected]
This season has not gone as planned for the Johnnie hockey team.
It began with high expectations, but an epidemic of concussions and other injuries have compromised Head Coach Doug Schueller’s lineup.
Sophomore Matt Colford, who led the Johnnies in scoring during the first half of the season, tore both his ACL and meniscus before winter break.
The Johnnies have also dealt with several concussions to key players.
“When key guys go down, guys need to step into new roles and I think we’ve had that,” Colford said.
The Johnnies had Feb. 3-5 off, but were swept at the hands of St. Thomas Jan. 27 and 28.
The Johnnies lost 2-0 at the St. Thomas Ice Arena Friday, Jan. 27. It was a competitive game that went into the third period a scoreless tie. The Tommies scored a power play goal with just over eight minutes remaining, which ended up being the game-winner.
The Johnnies went on the power play with 2:45 remaining, but were unable to get a shot on goal.
The Tommies then added an empty net goal with just 12 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Senior goalie Tyler Nelson stopped 33 shots in a strong performance for the Johnnies.
Colford felt the Johnnies played well, but just didn’t execute in the key moments.
“We had our chances and they had theirs,” Colford said. “Whoever scored first was going to win and it ended up being them.”
The following night the Johnnies lost 5-2 in front of their home crowd at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Special teams were the key in this game—18 penalties were assessed to both teams combined.
The Tommies started the period scoring with a power play goal at the 11:15 mark of the first. The Tommies scored again late in the second, however junior forward Sam Valerius answered about two minutes later to cut the Tommie lead to one. The Tommies then scored three unanswered goals in the third to take a 5-1 lead.
Sophomore forward Garrett Riebling added the second tally for the Johnnies at the 16:26 mark. The Tommies scored three power play goals and one shorthanded goal on the night.
“We didn’t play the way that we felt we could have,” Valerius said.
However, the season is far from over despite the disappointing series. The Johnnies still have four games to play and are determined to qualify for the MIAC tournament.
The top five teams qualify and the Johnnies are currently in sixth place, three points behind fifth place Concordia.
Last year, St. John’s finished in third to qualify and lost in triple overtime in the MIAC Championship.
Valerius is confident about the prospect of a tournament run again this season.
“If we’re playing well, we’re confident we can beat anyone in the MIAC,” Valerius said.
The Johnnies are not strangers to playing well down the stretch. Last season’s team went 7-0-2 in its last nine games, including 4-0 in its last four to secure a bid in the conference tournament.
It’s possible the Johnnies may have to win their last four again to qualify this season.
Colford feels the Johnnies can draw upon last year’s experience to help them with this stretch run.
“I think the guys are confident knowing what happened last year,” Colford said.
The Johnnies take the ice at 7:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Feb. 10 and 11 respectively for a two-game series against St. Mary’s at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud.
Feature photo credit: ALEXUS JUNGLES • [email protected]