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The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Royals championship dreams dashed in MIAC final

Bethel falls one win shy of second conference title in program history in 4-1 loss to St. Olaf College.

Fans packed the Bethel University Arena in Blaine, Minnesota Saturday night for the MIAC championship game. Rink five filled to near capacity almost an hour before puck drop in anticipation for the battle to follow. 

The Royals came in as the tournament’s second seed after a double overtime victory over St. Scholastica a week earlier. The Oles entered the tournament as the fifth seed before knocking off St. Mary’s University in the quarterfinals and top-seeded Augsburg University in the semifinals, both in shutout fashion. 

The Oles scored the game’s first goal on a rebound opportunity that bounced around the net and tipped in by St. Olaf forward Troy Bowditch. At 6:23 in the opening period, the Oles took a 1-0 lead. A boarding penalty by St. Olaf forward Tony Leahy put the Royals on the powerplay with 12 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the period. Bethel was unable to capitalize on the man advantage and headed into the first intermission down a goal. 

The Royals came out strong to start the second period with a couple of scoring chances down low in front of the Ole net. Five minutes into the period, a St. Olaf turnover in their own zone sprung Bethel forward Tyler Braccini loose. Braccini was unable to hit the net on the shot attempt and the puck ricocheted off the glass onto the stick of Bethel forward Joe Westlund. Westlund promptly fell to the ice and pulled off a sprawling backhand shot over the left pad of Ole goaltender Thomas Lalonde to tie the game at one. 

“I got the rebound, and just kind of threw it on net, it was just sitting there,” Westlund said. “I was on my knees just kind of whacking at it and was able to whack it home.” 

The next 11 minutes of the second period were defined by defense and hard checks from both teams, keeping the score knotted at one. With 2 minutes and 46 seconds left in the period, the Oles broke through on a wraparound goal by forward Sean Walsh, giving St. Olaf a 2-1 lead with one period left to play. 

Four minutes into the third, the Oles capitalized on a Royal turnover in their own zone. This time Kelijah McElroy found the back of the net for St. Olaf, extending their lead  3-1. Bethel created a couple of dangerous scoring chances midway through the third, but chances ended up being few and far between as the Royals were unable to get extended time in their offensive zone. 

“You’re chasing the game when you’re down by two so you have to find a way to get some offense,” Head Men’s Hockey Coach Chris McKelvie said. “You have to give them credit too, just shutting everything down, clogging the middle. They had a good game plan.” 

In desperation mode McKelvie opted for the empty net, pulling his goaltender Austin Ryman with 3 minutes and 4 seconds remaining in the game. The Royals initially generated scoring chances with the extra man but surrendered the game with an empty net goal by Ole forward Matthew Pointer at the 18:51 mark.

The Oles’ 4-1 victory gave them their second MIAC playoff title in three seasons and a trip to the Division III NCAA tournament. The Oles allowed one goal in three games, outscoring opponents 11-1 in the tournament.

For the Royals, the championship game loss ends one of the best seasons in program history with a regular season record of  18-6-3, but in the end falling one win shy of their second conference title and first since 2007. 

“They’re a tremendous team and they need to hold their heads high even though they lost the game,” McKelvie said. “But this one is going to sting for a while.”

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About the Contributor
Christopher Wrzesien, Staff Reporter
CJ Wrzesien, 24, is a communication major and journalism minor. He enjoys watching baseball, playing the guitar and playing the immaculate grid daily. If you need random sports information he's your guy. [email protected] | 407.937.9251
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