Lions hold fate in own hands against Green Knights
HANCOCK — With a pair of losses last weekend on the road against Northland and St. Scholastica, the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team wasted an opportunity to help secure themselves a spot in the postseason. To make matters worse, the Lions head into the final weekend of the regular season having to face off with the No. 5 St. Norbert Green Knights, the defending national champions and a team in need of three points of their own this weekend to secure the top spot in the NCHA playoffs.
To put it mildly, the Lions hold their own fate in their hands, but the task before them is a tall one.
“Personally we like the challenge,” said Lions coach Joe Burcar. “The case is we need a point. We need something to get in the playoffs.”
The Lions got the start they wanted last Friday against the Lumberjacks, with sophomore winger Cale Markham scoring just 1:00 into the contest. Unfortunately, that was all the offense the Lions could muster.
Finlandia was playing the weekend without their defensive pair in sophomore Adam Wammes and freshman Cory Richardson. The duo have played very well this season for Burcar.
“They are Top 4 guys for us,” said Burcar. “They play on the power play. They play on the penalty kill. They have a big role 5-on-5.”
To compensate, Burcar broke up his top line of sophomore Connor Hannon, sophomore Hunter Kero and freshman Teddy Randell in order to put Hannon back on the blue line throughout the weekend.
While Hannon played a strong weekend on the blue line and even scored a goal on Saturday, losing his offensive output was a tough decision to make for Burcar and his staff.
Saturday, the Lions fell behind 1-0, but scored the game’s next two goals, one from Hannon, the other from senior forward Timo Kocar. Getting a goal from Kocar, a forward who has bounced around trying to find a permanent home in the lineup, was a real bonus for the Lions.
“It’s nice to see Timo score,” Burcar said. “He’s been in and out of the lineup a lot.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the Saints struck twice in about a 40-second span to even the game and then take the lead for good in the third period. They added a third goal late to seal the win.
The Lions had sophomore goaltender Marcus Gloss back in the lineup this past weekend, but Burcar felt that while Gloss was not as good over the course of the two games, the team in front of him did not give him enough help either.
“I thought he was okay,” said Burcar. “I think as a whole, our entire team was just average on the weekend. You can’t be average in college hockey.”
This weekend, the Lions close out the regular season with a home-and-home series with the Green Knights. The Green Knights lead the NCHA with a record of 12-3-1 in conference play and 16-4-3 overall. The Green Knights need three points to hold off Adrian for the race for a home playoff spot throughout the entirety of the NCHA playoffs.
Since losing 3-1 to Marian on Jan. 11, the Green Knights have not lost, sweeping Northland and St. Scholastica over that stretch.
The Lions, who have never beaten the Green Knights, can clinch a playoff spot with a tie, which Burcar would love nothing more than to get Friday night when the two teams meet at Cornerstone Community Ice Center in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin, hours away from the Winter Carnival festivities at home.
The Green Knights are led offensively by Riley Christianson, who has 10 goals and 25 points in 23 games. Kurt Black has a team-high 11 goals and 18 points.
Between the pipes T.J. Black has been solid, going 15-4-2 in 22 appearances with a 1.74 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.
Friday’s contest will start at 8 p.m. at the Cornerstone Community Center in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin. Saturday’s game is slated to start at 7 p.m. at the Houghton County Arena.