Saints earn their spot in MIAC men's hockey championship game
A tight 3-2 win over St. Olaf on Sunday night means CSS will host Augsburg for the league playoff title on Saturday in Duluth.
DULUTH — A guide to next weekend in local hockey: both Minnesota Duluth teams are out of town, both Wisconsin-Superior teams are done for the season and high school boys section champs will be awaiting tournament seedings.
There’s going to be one game in town on Saturday night: The St. Scholastica Saints men’s hockey team.
CSS made sure of that on Sunday night by holding off St. Olaf 3-2 in a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Playoffs semifinal at Mars Lakeview Arena. The win sets up the MIAC Playoff championship game, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday night ‘up the hill’ between the Saints and second-place Augsburg.
“It means everything, just how hard the guys worked to get that first spot in the seeding, it would be a shame to go out in the first round. So we knew the importance of this, to get to that championship game. Just how hard the guys have battled all year long, they really deserved it, and I’m so happy for them,” Saints coach Dave Williams said.
Williams keeps his head clean-shaven so he would have had to go to the face to pull his hair out as CSS held off a 6-on-5 situation over the last 1:53 of the third period in which the Saints blocked four shots and goaltender Jack Bostedt saved the remaining three. However, this team has been in that situation several times en route to winning the MIAC regular season championship for the first time in school history and posting an overall record of 17-6-3.
“We’ve probably had eight or nine 6-on-5 situations at the end of a game so the guys are comfortable with it, we work on it in practice. That’s probably where I’m most confident with them, is 6-on-5 because they do all the little things to win a game,” Williams said.
Though CSS has earned many of its accolades this season on the back of a high-flying offense that outscored second-place Augsburg by 19 goals, the Saints believe they have the necessary grit to finish off close games.
“Obviously, they had nothing to lose there and they were giving their best to tie the game. It was very important for us to stay together and eat those shots and stick to the plan and block shots and just get the puck out,” Saints junior Arkhip Ledenkov said.
The Ledenkov brothers, from Polotsk, Belarus, have torn up the MIAC all season. Arkhip was the league’s leading goalscorer (21 in 23 games) and point-getter (49) and Filimon led the MIAC in assists (23). They made their presence felt on Sunday, and quickly.
Filimon Ledenkov bagged the game’s first goal, shooting through a screen at 6:47 of the first period, and Arkhip quickly doubled the lead, pouncing on a loose rebound and poking it in 95 seconds later.
“Me and my brother, we always talk about how it’s important to score first and go ahead because it’s much easier to play like that,” Arkhip Ledenkov said.
The Oles, who were fifth in the MIAC standings but won a rescheduled road game at Concordia-Moorhead on Friday night a year after they finished seventh in the regular season but won three playoff road games and the league tournament, did not shrink from the task. They found a gear late in the first period and broke through on Connor Kaithoff’s goal just past the midway point of the second.
Bryce Johnson scored for the Saints with 6:03 left in the frame, but Tyler Cooper made it a one-goal game again, scoring for St. Olaf with 2:18 until intermission.“I think it’s kind of hard for every team, if you’re leading by two goals or one goal, it’s hard to keep that momentum going. Sometimes you just get comfortable and think, ‘We’re here and we’re all set,’ but we’re not. It was a punch in our mouth,” Ledenkov said.
St. Olaf drew a hooking penalty seven minutes into the third period and the subsequent power play represented possibly its best chance to get an equalizer, at least with five skaters, but after killing it off, the Saints sharpened up and had multiple chances to grab some insurance, at least until it was time to bunker down.
“It felt like an eternity out there. We talked to the guys about making hard plays so we were fine with taking a couple icings, and get a little break. They came hard at the end there, but guys sold out, they blocked shots so we’re really happy to get the job done here,” Williams said.
Bostedt, a junior, finished with 21 saves.
The Saints and Auggies are familiar. On Feb. 17, they began a two-game home-and-home series in Minneapolis in which Augsburg needed two regulation wins to steal the conference title. CSS stole it back in the Friday night game when Carson Richels scored a game-tying extra attacker goal with 1:15 to play, guaranteeing the conference-winning point. The Saints added a second point by winning a shootout, then won the Saturday game 4-1.
“Our speed will help us against them. They’re really heavy on their sticks and good in 50/50 battles, but I think we have the advantage in transition and top-end speed. It’s going to be a battle. They’re going to have a chip on their shoulder after last weekend, so we’re ready for a good test here,” Williams said.
The NCAA Division III tournament looms for the winner, and it’s probably going to be a winner-take-all affair. But the Saints looked ready for the challenge on Sunday night.
“Nobody likes to lose the last game of the season. We want to go all the way and I think we’ve got the team to do it. We’re just excited, we’re battling every game right ‘til the end,” junior captain Nathan Adrian said.
St. Olaf 0-2-0—2
St. Scholastica 2-1-0—3
First period — 1, CSS, Filimon Ledenkov (Danylo Sukhonos, Arkhip Ledenkov), 6:47 (PP); 2, CSS, A. Ledenkov (Jack Fuss, F. Ledenkov), 8:44.
Second period — 3, STO, Connor Kaithoff (Brendan Darby, Jonathan Panisa), 10:47; 4, CSS, Bryce Johnson (Carsen Richels, Sam Olson), 13:57; 5, STO, Tyler Cooper (Gunnar Johnson, Panisa), 17:42.
Third period — No scoring.
Goalie saves — STO, Thomas Lalonde 22; CSS, Jack Bostedt 21.