St. Olaf's playoff-seasoned sophomores ready for another run
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.
NORTHFIELD, Minn. — After finishing 8-14-3 in the regular season and sitting in seventh place in the final MIAC standings, St. Olaf was the ultimate underdog.
Maybe the general college hockey world didn’t expect much from the Oles, but that’s exactly why they were able to make the run that they did — beating Concordia, St. John’s and Augsburg in the MIAC tournament en route to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2006–just the second in program history.
The Oles lost to perennial powerhouse St. Norbert, but simply taking them to overtime showed head coach Eddie Effinger that perhaps a team with 12 freshmen just needed some time to gel — and luckily for them it came at the ideal time of the season.
“For us last year, we were so young, playing those 12 freshmen nearly every day, I thought there was going to be some pain in there, some rough weeks and even months,” Effinger said. “But our crew did a good job remembering that our plan was to be a very different team at the end of the year. And we were that at the end.”
Now, as the new season has dawned on St. Olaf, those 12 freshmen are now sophomores. They’re more experienced, and people around the league and around the country are starting to recognize this more veteran Ole squad as a force to be reckoned with.
“This year, the two things we’ve been focused on is one, try not to rest on our laurels. No one cares what happened last year, so we’re trying to put last year to bed,” Effinger said. “We did grow confidence that’s going to stick with us, but it’s a new team and a new group.”
The Oles (3-1-1, 1-1-0 MIAC) recently took yet another perennial powerhouse to overtime and nearly knocked them off, skating to a 5-5 tie with Wisconsin-Stevens Point last weekend.
“By the end of last year, we were beating St. John’s and Augsburg and we were playing St. Norbert in the tournament and taking them to overtime, we were like, ‘Oh yeah, we can play with anyone!’ But I think it takes a long time for coaches and even players to believe that,” said Effinger, who is in his third season at St. Olaf. “This year (playing Stevens Point) we were down 5-3 with like two minutes left and to come back and tie, I think that gave our young group the sense that, hey, when we play, we can play with the bluebloods of Division III.”
Of the five players who scored for the Oles on Saturday against the Pointers, four (Ethan Hersant, Jonathan Panisa, Jonathan Young and Tyler Cooper) are either sophomores or freshmen. The other scorer (Noah Heisler) is a junior. In all, the Oles have just four seniors and seven juniors.
“We’re still a pretty young team. We have mostly freshmen and sophomores. We do have a few juniors and seniors who contribute, but early this year we had a few immature moments on the ice,” Effinger said. “As much as I want us to kind of arrive and be a part of that crew that competes for the conference, I think we still have a long way to go to be a different team at the end of the year.”
Also unique for the Oles aside from simply youth: Their three goaltenders who get regular playing time. Sophomore Thomas Lalonde, the reigning MIAC defensive player of the week, played in last Thursday’s game against Wisconsin-River Falls and stopped 27 shots to earn a 3-0 shutout – the first of his career. It was the only game he has started so far this season. Junior Lucas Hagen has started three games and is 2-0-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average. He was the MIAC defensive player of the week for the previous week, thanks to the Oles’ 2-1 win over Bethel on Nov. 5. The Oles’ third goalie, freshman Tyler Laureault, is also expected to get plenty of playing time this year.
“It’s rare to have back-to-back defensive players of the week from your goaltenders and having them be two different guys. So I guess it’s a problem, but I’d say it’s a good problem,” Effinger said with a laugh. “It’s something we as a staff have to manage. I think we’re probably going to let them duke it out until later in the year.”
The Oles will take on Hamline in a MIAC series this weekend. The Pipers (3-2-0, 1-1-0) are off to a similarly solid start after a pair of home wins against Northland and River Falls in St. Paul last week.
“The best version of us can certainly beat Hamline, and they’re certainly good enough to beat us,” Effinger said. “It’s a healthy approach to take in this weekend, and it’s a healthy approach any weekend in MIAC in general this entire season. There’s depth everywhere in this league.”