With six games left, playoffs still in discussion for Lions

Finlandia forward Max Messier (28) and defenseman Chris Beyer (2) line up for a faceoff during a game last season against MSOE at the Houghton County Arena in Hancock. (Photo courtesy of Finlandia University)

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team sits four points out of a playoff spot with six games left in their season. They trail Concordia Wisconsin, the team they will host to close out the regular season.

With a win on Saturday Lawrence last weekend, coach Joe Burcar is excited that the Lions have their playoff hopes in their own hands heading into this weekend’s matchups with Milwaukee School of Engineering.

“The best thing about this time of the year is we control our destiny,” he said. “We don’t have to have other teams lose. We just have to take care of business, which is the only thing that we want and need, and we haven’t been able to see that for years.

“As an athlete, as a coach, that’s probably the best thing you can wish for. We control it. If we fall on our face, then shame on us, right? We control it. Today, we control it. From here on out we control our destiny.”

Even if the Lions split out starting this weekend, they are right where they want to be.

“This time last year, we were trying to, as coaches, (get) moral victories, finish off the year on a strong note,” said Burcar. “This year, we’re talking about where we can land in the playoff race. What seed do we want to be, or what we can develop.

“We’re in the hunt, which is exciting at this time of the year. The practices are energized. Huys that haven’t played are fighting to get back in the lineup. It’s a great time of year when we’re in a situation that we created.”

There are numerous ways the Lions could make the playoffs, provided they can get another couple of wins over their remaining games.

“There are so many scenarios,” he said. “If we were to win out, we could move up to fourth or fifth place. If we win two, we can end up in seventh or eighth. We went three, we could be at sixth. So, more importantly, we have to focus on Friday night and get the points when needed.”

After dropping a 3-0 decision on Friday to the Vikings, Burcar and his staff changed things in their lineup, and those decisions proved to be the right ones as the Lions bounced back with a 6-5 overtime win on Saturday.

Smart line change

One of the biggest changes came in reuniting his all-freshman line of Owen Schmidt, James Eng, and Matteo Ybarra. The trio combined for four of the Lions’ first five goals, and Ybarra also chipped in on the fifth goal.

“Obviously, the line combinations made a difference with Eng, Schmidt, and Matteo,” said Burcar. “They connected on many points that night, I think four of the six goals that we had.

“After Friday night, there was something that just sparked us that we thought, ‘well, let’s try them back together.’ Eng has been playing really good hockey too, since he came back from Christmas. We had Schmidt down the left side, and he’s a righty. We moved back to the right, and put Matteo on that line. Obviously, they just simply connected on Saturday. Their production was unreal.”

Beyer’s struggles continue

In Saturday’s win, junior defenseman Chris Beyer was stuck in the seventh defenseman role throughout the game, getting just over six minutes of ice time in the contest. The third-year defender has just two assists this season, and has struggled in his own end more often than not, according to Burcar.

“He’s been struggling,” said Burcar. “You know, you’re looking for two or three other guys that kind of fill that role.”

Erickson stepping up

While Beyer has struggled, sophomore defenseman and Houghton native Brendan Erickson has found ways to expand his role in the lineup, eating up some of the minutes that Beyer is not getting. He has scored a game-winning goal in overtime this season, and Saturday, he assisted on the overtime game-winner.

“He has really improved since Christmas time,” Burcar said. “Even before Christmas, he was starting to really take on major minutes, pivotal roles on penalty kill, and especially power play, matchups against other top lines. He’s quietly putting together a heck of a season.”

Before the season began, Erickson and Burcar had multiple discussions about how the second-year defender could have an impact on the team, if he wanted to. Burcar is excited to see him take those discussions to heart. He feels that Erickson does one thing really well.

“Simply being consistent, just being consistent,” said Burcar. “We talk about that all the time. We always say in the locker that being good is being consistent, just being simply consistent everyday, whether it’s in the gym, the classroom, on the ice.

“He’s got a steady calmness about him. Sometimes you don’t notice him, but at the same time, that’s a good thing. Offensively, he’s one of our top defenders as far as power play, and offensively getting things done. So, he’s been quietly consistent. He’s done something awfully good (things), the overtime goal, the overtime assist on Saturday. He’s really put together quite the season for us.”

Scouting the Raiders

The MSOE Raiders are currently tied for fourth in the NCHA with an overall record of 12-7 and a conference record of 7-5. They are coming off a split with Concordia Wisconsin, and have gone 4-2 in January.

“They come at you and they come in waves,” Burcar said. “They don’t have a lot of seniors, but they actually do have a lot of depth. They’ve got three transfers. They use their depth. The coaching staff is very good. Their special teams is awfully good. (Their) goaltending is good.”

Senior forward Kyle Herbster leads the team in assists (18) and points (27) in 19 games. Freshman Gramm McCormack has also been good, scoring 10 goals and 26 points in 19 games. Senior Christian Sabin leads the team in goals (12) and has 24 points.

In goal, freshman Austin Schwab has appeared in 14 games, starting all of them. He is 8-5 with a 2.86 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.

Game times

Friday’s night matchup is set for 8 p.m. between the Raiders and the Lions. Saturday’s game is set to start at 5 p.m.


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