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MIAC notebook: Bethel, St. Olaf get some Wild inspiration, take matters outside for nonconference matchup

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.

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The Recreation Outdoor Center in St. Louis Park, Minn.
Contributed / St. Louis Park Parks and Recreation Department

Hockey Day Minnesota doesn’t have a monopoly on outdoor college hockey games this season.

In fact, if someone wants to enjoy the great outdoors and watch the puck, they need only to look to this weekend, when 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.

The game will be a clash between the two top teams in the MIAC standings as the Royals (8-3-1 overall, 3-2-1 MIAC), tied with St. John’s for second place in the conference, host the league-leading Oles (8-2-1, 4-2-0 MIAC).

Bethel head coach Chris McKelvie said the inspiration for the outdoor game came from watching a Minnesota Wild practice at the rink last season.

“It’s kind of always been in the back of our mind, we want to try and play an outdoor game,” McKelvie said. “Our football stadium got renovated a few years ago and people had talked about doing one there. But then when you start to talk about the cost of doing a single outdoor game, it’s almost unrealistic. So then you can kind of look at, well, is anyone else doing an outdoor game that we can get on? But there’s some really big challenges with that, too.

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“But as it turned out, I was at the St. Louis Park Rec Center a couple years ago, noticed they had an outdoor rink, and then I saw the Wild practicing there maybe last year, two years ago, and thought, ‘Hey, that would be a great venue for outdoor game.’”

The rink is covered and permanent in the winter, which means it’s more reliable weather-wise than playing on a lake.

“So basically, the game can be played no matter what the conditions are unless there’s, like, horizontal rain,” McKelvie said. “So that sounded really cool to us. And the cost of it is basically the cost of a normal ice time at any other rink. It was a no-brainer for us.”

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Bethel defenseman Caydon Meyer (23) battles St. John's Joe Papa (14) during their series in early December.
Contributed / Bill Prout / CenterIceView

The game’s festivities will include a food truck, a bonfire and a pregame skate open to members of the Bethel community. The game is free, but there will be a donation bucket for those who wish to help cover the cost of the event.

“It should be a cool little winter, pre-Christmas, Winter Carnival-type feel,” McKelvie said. “And to have an opponent in St. Olaf that we can kind of feel has the same path as us, where we’re trying to build a program, is really cool. And now that we’re close to the top of the standings it makes it a pretty cool nonconference matchup.”

The game will be the final one of the first half of the season for both teams, and McKelvie said he’s been mostly pleased with how the Royals have fared so far. Their team defense (18 goals allowed in 12 games, or a 1.50 goals against average) leads the MIAC and is fourth in the country. And their two-goalie rotation of junior Travis Allen (1.66 GAA; .940 save percentage) and freshman Austin Ryman (1.17 GAA; .940 save percentage) has been outstanding.

“I think what we really are pleased with, even though we still want to clean it up, is our goals-against,” McKelvie said. “We’re at a 1.3 or 1.4 goals against, which is one of the top teams in the country. That’s a huge credit to our D core and team defense and also our goalies are playing really really good right now. I think each of them has played six games. We knew that both would play, but I didn't know it would be split down the middle like that, and it’s worked out really well. They’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders and they support each other really well.”

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After this game, the Royals will be off until Jan. 6-7, when they will play their final nonconference games in Wisconsin (against UW-Stout and UW-River Falls). After that, it’s all MIAC games until the end of February.

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“I think we expect more of the same in terms of wins. We do expect to win every night, that’s the bar that’s been set for our team,” McKelvie said of how his team can improve in the second half of the year. “We do have to get better in certain areas. We have to be more consistent in our breakouts. We have to be more consistent offensively. We’ve been really good at times but some nights it comes harder than others, so we have to make adjustments and keep those levels up. We know we have two really good goalies, but we can’t just rely on them.

“If we can do that, we’re in really good shape. In late February, we want to be competing with Augsburg, St. Olaf, St. John’s, Scholastica … we want to be competing for a playoff spot and hopefully even a conference title.”

Oles lead at the break

As mentioned, St. Olaf currently leads the MIAC standings and will be in first place as the season halts for the holidays. The Oles’ sophomore forward Troy Bowditch is tied with Bethel senior forward Jarrett Cammarata for the conference’s scoring lead, with 15 points so far. Bowditch is also the top assist-getter in the league, with 12.

St. John’s (5-5-1, 3-2-1 MIAC) and tied with Bethel for second place with 11 conference points, has been led by junior forward Nick Michel, who has nine goals and is tied for fifth in the nation.

Defending league champions Augsburg (6-2-1, 3-1-0 MIAC) is currently in sixth place with eight conference points but they’ve also played just four games while nearly everyone else has played sith. The Auggies–who were ranked No. 4 in the latest USCHO national Division III poll–have a big series this weekend against No. 5 St. Norbert in De Pere, Wis. Augsburg beat the Green Knights in all three of their matchups last season, including the NCAA quarterfinals in Minneapolis.

Ahead of the Auggies at the break is St. Scholastica (10 points, 4-3-1 overall, 3-0-1 MIAC) and Saint Mary’s (9 points, 4-6-1 overall, 3-3-0 MIAC).

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Players of the Week

St. Olaf’s Jonathan Young and Concordia’s Aaron Dickstein received weekly MIAC honors.

Young, a sophomore from Pelham, New Hampshire, was named offensive player of the week thanks to his game-tying and game-winning goals in the third period against Augsburg on Dec. 3. The forward has four goals and two assists this season for a total of six points.

Dickstein, a junior goalie, made 24 saves and came within 13 seconds of a shutout in the Cobbers' 2-1 series-clinching win over Hamline on Dec. 2. The native of Dayton, Ohio, has at least 24 saves in all three starts this season.

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