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MIAC notebook: Bethel riding high after beating Team USA

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

Bethel celebrates on the ice against the USNTDP on Oct. 15, 2022 at Bethel University Arena.
Contributed / Nathan Klok

The U.S. Under-18 Team’s 2022-23 schedule looks pretty typical — a fair mix of top-end Division I and USHL teams, as fitting a team whose main purpose is to get the country’s high-end prospects ready for pro hockey. And, as is typical, Team USA played well in their exhibition games against that competition. In fact, they were undefeated until Oct. 15.

That’s when they ran into the Bethel Royals.

Yes, Bethel, which is part of the nine-team Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference playing at the Division III level. A night earlier, Team USA beat former MIAC member St. Thomas, in its second year of Division I play, 5-2 at the Tommies home rink.

“Obviously, we knew what their record was coming into the game and that was, full transparency, intimidating to us,” Bethel head coach Chris McKelvie said, discussing his team’s 4-2 win. “But we also had watched them a little bit and knew there were some things where we could have success. So give our guys a ton of credit because they came out, played really hard and committed to protecting the middle and having great sticks and great angles and made it a little difficult on Team USA.”

Bethel is part of the nine-team Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which plays at the Division III level.


Bethel players, including Jack Brown (25), Caydon Meyer (23) and Spencer Kring (18) gather as they play the USNTDP team-U18 team on Oct. 15.
Contributed / Nathan Klok

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. Travis Allen made 32 saves for Bethel. Team USA, meanwhile, came into the game 9-0 with wins over Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan State and Lake Superior State to their credit.

“From USA’s standpoint, they’re playing all Division I teams and then they come play us and maybe there was a little bit of them that thought it was going to be easy,” McKelvie said. “I don’t want to put that on those players, because they’re incredible players. They go from playing Michigan State and Notre Dame to playing in front of 500 people.”

It was all the more impressive, then, that the Royals had just five days of practice before the exhibition. McKelvie’s coaching staff wasn’t grading the players on Xs and Os, but on effort — a test they passed with flying colors.

“We had a great goaltending performance but there were spurts in that game where our team, we felt like we controlled the play, and it wasn't just we held on for dear life,” McKelvie said. “We were able to dictate play early in the game. They definitely poured it on late, as they were behind, but we did a really good job dictating the game too.”

All of this bodes well for the Royals, who went 15-11-1 overall last season and finished fifth in the MIAC standings. The program has steadily increased its win total under McKelvie, having won just four games in his first season (2018-19). The 2021-22 season was the first in which the Royals reached double-digit win totals since 2009-10 under Joel Johnson (10-15-0) and their first winning season since 2007-08 (16-7-2).

“We took a big step as a program last year in terms of win totals and climbing the MIAC standings and being able to compete with everybody,” said McKelvie, the former Bemidji State captain who is entering his fifth season as Bethel’s head coach. “Now the expectation is that you take another big step and get into the top part of the MIAC. The USA game doesn't necessarily change any of the expectations, it just validates the direction we’re going.”

The Royals return all-conference players in forwards Luke Posner (8g-9a-17pts) and Jarrett Cammarata (6g-16a-22pts) and defenseman Dayne Stoyanoff (2g-7a-9pts). In addition to goaltender Allen, they also have Austin Ryman, a transfer from Division I Alaska. McKelvie also said the majority of his incoming freshman class played in either the USHL or the NAHL, just another barometer of the quality of players entering Division III hockey these days.

Bethel has another exhibition Saturday against Wisconsin-Stout before kicking off their season proper Oct. 28-29 against Finlandia in Houghton, Michigan.


“We kind of know the bar for this team and what they’re capable of,” he said. “We want to see a fairly big improvement from our team like we’ve seen the past couple years and just stay on that track.”

Auggies the favorite in the MIAC

There’s no preseason coaches poll for the MIAC this season, but there’s a clear consensus for the league title favorites this year. Augsburg, coming off the MIAC regular-season title and an NCAA tournament semifinal appearance, are the favorites to repeat according to a (very) informal poll taken by this reporter in discussing the upcoming season with coaches around the league.

“If anyone doesn’t think Augsburg isn’t the best, they probably aren’t thinking very clearly,” Bethel head coach Chris McKelvie said.

Augsburg, coming off a 25-5 season that included a MIAC regular season championship and an appearance in the Division III Frozen Four, figures to be the team to beat in the conference once again.

“Our expectations are as high as ever,” said Auggies head coach Greg May. “We got a little taste last year of what success looks like and feels like, obviously getting to the Frozen Four and coming away a few games short of our ultimate goal, we return a ton and we’re excited about what we have coming back.”

The Auggies return a number of all-conference players, including forwards Fritz Belisle, Jarod Blackowiak, Austin Dollimer and Gavin Holland, defenseman Mason Palmer and goaltender Jack Robbel. And of their seven freshmen on the roster, five have USHL or NAHL experience, according to May.

However, they will be missing an important player in Austin Martinsen. The MIAC player of the year and an All-American, Martinsen led the MIAC in scoring with 16 goals and 22 assists.


To use a line from my old boss at the University of Minnesota, Bob Motzko, ‘You can’t win a national championship in November.’ Of course it’s a spotlight game, and it will be fun, but more importantly it will be an important barometer to see where we’re at.
- Augsburg coach Greg May, on the upcoming rematch against the Adrian Bulldogs

“I don’t anticipate one single person coming in and filling those shoes. It’s going to be kind of a committee effort to fill those shoes,” said May, who was the MIAC’s coach of the year.

The Auggies lost to eventual national champions Adrian in the national semifinal. As it happens, they will open their season against those same Bulldogs on Nov. 3 in Minneapolis.

“We’re excited about it. We’re excited to get them at home,” May said. “But we’re trying to stay even-keel about it. To use a line from my old boss at the University of Minnesota, Bob Motzko, ‘You can’t win a national championship in November.’ Of course it’s a spotlight game, and it will be fun, but more importantly it will be an important barometer to see where we’re at.”

St. John's Johnnies look strong this season

Although Augsburg was the seeming consensus No. 1, St. John’s was most often mentioned as the team who might be able to knock off the Auggies this year.

“It’s going to be a very even league, and any team could really step up and have a really good year. We’ve been fortunate enough to finish in the top three regularly the past few years,” Johnnies head coach Doug Schueller said. “I definitely think we have a team that can do that this year, but we’re going to have to play some really good hockey to do that. Still, it’s something that’s a goal of ours that we think we can accomplish if we can play the game the way we need to.”

SJU went 17-8-2 overall last year but just 9-4-1 in the league – they were nipped for second in the standings by Concordia, who went 10-4-2. The Johnnies ended up losing in the MIAC semifinals to eventual champion St. Olaf.

This season, Schueller said he expects a deep team with an older bunch of players, including nine seniors. Key among them will be all-MIAC forward Auggie Moore, who has been the team’s leading scorer the past three seasons, defenseman Peter Tabor, forward Jack Johnson and junior forward Lewis Crosby, who was the Johnnies’ leading goalscorer.


“We’ve got a lot of good hockey players, it’s just a question of who is going to jump up and jump out of their shell a bit to have another great year,” Schueller said.

The biggest question mark for the Johnnies will be in goal, where they graduated All-American Mac Berglove as well as Michael Magnuson.

“We don’t have a single college hockey game in the net, so someone this year is going to get their first college game, their first college win, so we have to see who that is and who is going to come out with the starting role,” Schueller said.

The Johnnies start the season Oct. 29 with a nonconference road game against Wisconsin-River Falls.

Cobbers look to keep building with new head coach

After their second-place finish in the MIAC last season under interim head coach Dale Lund, the Concordia Cobbers were looking to find a full-time coach to take the program a step further.

Enter Kirk Olimb. The Warroad, Minnesota, native was named the sixth coach in the program’s history this spring and hopes to drive the Cobbers to an even better finish than their 13-10-3 campaign a season ago.

“They’ve built a good culture up here. Coach Chris Howe did a phenomenal job over the years helping build that culture and bringing in good players,” Olimb said. Howe, who was head coach from 2009-2022, stepped down at the start of the 2022 season to pursue other opportunities.


Olimb played college hockey at Hamline, then got his law degree and worked as a lawyer in Minneapolis before returning to hockey, first as an assistant at his alma mater and then as head coach and general manager of the Willmar Warhawks of the NA3HL. Concordia is his first head coaching job at the college level.

“It’s a great feeling around campus,” Olimb said. “The players have a great group. We have a lot of really mature, veteran guys that have been around, and even some of the younger guys, the sophomores and juniors. We like our group.”

The Cobbers do have to replace all-conference first-teamer Tyler Bossert, who scored 10 times and amassed 33 points for Concordia, as well as four of their top six defensemen. But they do return Cole O'Connell, who also had 10 goals and 24 points, as well as Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe, who had 18 points and was on the MIAC all-rookie team. Jaxon Nelson, the team’s starting goaltender, is also returning this season, as are defender Jarret Lalli and forward Jacen Bracko, who each returned for a fifth year.

“We’re depending on a lot of guys to step up, freshmen included,” Olimb said. “But I like what I see so far.”

That leaves some Cobbers with some hope for improvement. Concordia finished second in the conference standings but ultimately lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals to eventual champions St. Olaf.

“By a lot of the player’s accounts, they thought they could have done even more,” Olimb said. “But we know it will be tough this year. You name the MIAC team, every night is a battle. No matter who it is, any team could beat any other team. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s really true.”

The Cobbers play a pair of exhibition games this weekend against Jamestown — at home Friday and in Jamestown, North Dakota on Saturday — before the regular season starts in earnest on Sept. 29-20 with a nonconference road series at Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

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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