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College rivalry will peak outdoors as St. John's, Augsburg have a lot on the line

The MIAC game between these two Division III schools features plenty of story angles but its still a regular-season game with playoff implications

Augsburg hockey players on the ice
Augsburg players celebrate a goal with its fans against Adrian on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022 at Ed Saugestad Rink in Minneapolis.
Contributed / Kevin Healy for Augsburg University Athletics

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — St. John’s senior forward Brett Meister didn’t exactly need extra motivation to get hyped up for Hockey Day Minnesota 2023.

“It’s very special for me, growing up in White Bear my whole childhood,” said Meister, who graduated from White Bear Lake in 2016. “I feel very fortunate to represent St. John’s in my hometown. They're both very special to me.”

For Meister, one of two Bears alums on the Johnnies roster along with sophomore Cooper Anderson, simply being able to participate in this year’s edition of the 17th annual event would have been enough. But the fact that his Johnnies are taking on Augsburg in the first-ever MIAC game to be featured for HDM certainly gives Friday’s 5:30 p.m. contest even more.

Senior forwards Brett Meister, Auggie Moore and head coach Doug Schueller join Mick Hatten before their Friday night game.

“Ever since I came to St. John’s, Augsburg has been one of our biggest rivals and competitors,” Meister said. “They’re a great program, so it's always fun to compete against them and see who gets the upper hand. It’s going to be very interesting to see how it goes in an outdoor game, because you never know with the elements or with the atmosphere how that’s going to go. So it’s going to be a new experience for both teams, it’s going to be a lot of fun to see how that plays out.”

The Johnnies/Auggies rivalry is one that has intensified in the last decade, thanks in part to the steady rise of Augsburg as the dominant force in the conference. This weekend’s series would have been a big one for both teams regardless of the venue (indeed, the teams play again on Saturday in St. Cloud).


But both Auggies head coach Greg May and Johnnies bench boss Doug Schueller said that being able to play outdoors, on arguably one of the biggest days for hockey in Minnesota aside from the state tournament, is likely due to one man: Mike Schwartz.

(This weekend) is huge for us to be honest.
St. John's head coach Doug Schueller

“The stars kind of aligned for us to have our game against Augsburg be on the right date,” Schueller said. “Schwartz, who was my high school coach and a past Augsburg hockey coach, was a big advocate for the St. John’s/Augsburg game and was really pushing for it to be included.”

Schwartz led the White Bear Lake hockey team to three state tournament appearances — two of which included one Doug Schueller on the roster — in the mid-'90s before leaving in 1996 for Augsburg, where he was the head coach until 2008. May played for Schwartz at Augsburg from 2003-2006.

Greg May, a former Augsburg player and now head coach, talks about Division III hockey and how his team landed Friday night's game at Hockey Day Minnesota.

“I think that’s a pretty cool little triangle connection,” May said. “I played for coach Schwartz, Dougie played for coach Schwartz, Doug’s a White Bear alum … it was a chance to get the MIAC involved with hockey day. That’s kind of how we got involved. We owe a lot to coach Schwartz for sticking his neck out there and getting our programs on the stage.”

Both programs had high expectations for the season, but none more than Augsburg, which is coming off a 25-5 season and its first-ever Division III Frozen Four appearance. The Auggies (9-7-1, 5-3-0 MIAC) have made the NCAA tournament five of the past seven years but are currently in a precarious position for the MIAC tournament — they’re currently in fifth place in the standings in a league where just the top five teams make the playoffs.

“We had a decent start to the year, but we also had a couple losses that we weren't hoping to have when you look at the schedule at the start of the year,” said May, whose team started the year No. 3 in the country and tied defending national champions Adrian in their season opener but lost a few games to a few lower-ranked teams after that.


“But Division III is so good, and there’s a lot of parity around the MIAC, the WIAC and the NCHA. You only play 25 games and only 11 teams get into the national tournament, so there’s not a lot of room for error throughout the year,” May said. “We came in with a target on our back, and we’re still learning how to navigate the stress and pressure of being that team that people are aware of, where last year maybe we didn’t have that same stress or pressure the whole entire season.”

The Johnnies, meanwhile, won the MIAC regular-season title in 2020 but hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2013. They’re currently 10-7-2 overall and 6-3-1 in the league but still are second behind the surprise first-place team, St. Scholastica.

It would be the Saints' first in any sport since joining the league in 2021.
MIAC foes Bethel and St. Olaf will face off in a nonconference matchup at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Recreation Outdoor Center in St. Louis Park.
People around the league and around the country are starting to recognize this more veteran Ole squad as a force to be reckoned with. “We did grow confidence that’s going to stick with us, but it’s a new team and a new group,” St. Olaf head coach Eddie Effinger says.
Although Augburg skated away with their (unofficial) shootout victory at the end of 65 hard minutes, the game between the Auggies and the defending national champions Adrian Bulldogs will go into the books officially as a 2-2 tie.
Ben Ward, Sam Wilhite, Jack Brown and Michael Savelkoul each scored for the Royals, who had only had five days of practice prior to the game

“(This weekend) is huge for us to be honest,” Schueller said. “We’ve played more games than most teams in the MIAC. Our bye week is the last week of the regular season, so we have to keep pace. We have to continue to push to put some space between us between the other teams who are fighting for those playoff sports. We don't have the luxury of playing that final weekend so we need to have a good solid playoff spot locked up by that point.”

Neither team has ever played in an outdoor game — unless you count back in the 1960s when both teams’ regular rinks were outside. The coaches have tried to prepare their players for many different eventualities — including switching from clear Itech face shields to cages and wearing tons of warm-weather gear they might not be used to.

“We’ve tried to think about everything, but there’s probably going to be stuff that we’re not prepared for,” Schueller said. “It’s just that type of game, so we're going to have to adjust on the fly and be ready for things that are thrown at us, and fight through adversity and be tough in that way.”

The main thing, though, for both programs, seems to be this: Try to keep things as normal as possible, like you would for any typical MIAC home-and-home weekend. That’s easier said than done, but it’s still the goal.

“We’re not talking to our guys about it. We haven’t even mentioned anything,” May said. “We got new uniforms for the game and we haven’t mentioned it to the guys. It’s not like we’re trying to hide it from them, but we’re trying to keep the week just a normal week. It just happens to be a neutral site on Friday, that’s outdoors.


“Maybe it’s because of where we are in the season, and us not exactly being where we hoped we’d be at this point. We’re more focused on what we need to do to get better versus focused on the hoopla of a special game like this. We’re really just trying to keep it as normal as possible.”

What to read next
The Auggies (16-9-2) will hit the road to take on Wisconsin-Stevens Point at 3 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
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