From the basement to the playoffs

Hamline men’s ice hockey team qualifies for MIAC playoffs after finishing last two seasons with only three wins.


Cole Mayer

Junior forward and assistant team captain Kevin Novakovich (11) celebrates with the Pipers.

Paul Patane, Senior Reporter

St. Mary’s had a statement weekend as the Cardinals beat the Pipers in overtime 3-4 on Friday, Feb. 20 in Winona. Hamline returned to St. Paul on Saturday, Feb. 21, to take on St. Mary’s in Oscar Johnson Arena and the Cardinals won the rematch 4-5.

On Saturday, Hamline struck first with a goal in the first period from senior forward Austin Cihak. Junior Forward Charlie Adams scored two goals and first-year defenseman Mitch Hall added another. Adams finished the regular season leading the Pipers with 16 goals scored.

Penalties were a big part of the 4-5 loss. Hamline had nine penalties called against them, including one with less than a minute left in regulation, which put a halt to a potential comeback. The Cardinals wound up being rewarded with 18 minutes of power play time to help keep the Pipers in their own zone.

Sophomore goalie John Sellie-Hanson started in net for the Pipers but was replaced by backup first-year goalie Erick Majerle after the team fell into a deficit early in the second period.

Sellie-Hanson didn’t have his sharpest night but he’s been a solid number one goalie most of the season, according to senior defenseman and captain Joe Rubbelke.

“John’s been great this year. He stole a couple games for us,” Rubbelke said.

Junior forward Kevin Novakovich has a ton of confidence in his goalie as well.

“He’s always been a really focused goaltender. He hates being scored on,” Novakovich said. “He makes saves when we need him to and our defensive structure has gotten better [this season].”

Sellie-Hanson has noticed significant changes after first-year Head Coach Cory Laylin took over the team.

“It’s been a night and day change since last year. The defensemen are helping out a ton this year and making it easy,” Sellie-Hanson said.

Even though he was benched for Majerle, Sellie-Hanson has a great deal of respect for his six foot seven inch tall teammate.

“Erick’s a great guy and he’s got size on his side. He works hard and challenges me every day,” Sellie-Hanson.

Rubbelke sees a very confident and able backup in Majerle.

“Erick, he’s come into big situations and he’s done a great job stepping in when we need him to back up John,” Rubbelke said.

While mistakes and penalties may have cost the Pipers the game on Saturday, there were no issues getting scoring opportunities. Hamline launched an impressive 53 shots on goal but St. Mary’s goalie was the equalizer.

Sellie-Hanson has noticed and appreciates the added firepower.

“We’re scoring a lot more goals this year. We picked up some players who really helped us pick up our scoring. Some guys from last year have stepped up, too,” Sellie-Hanson said.

Novakovich led the Pipers in goals scored last season with nine and started hot this season, but his scoring has cooled off in recent weeks. However, his effort has not wavered and he’s enjoyed the privilege of learning from Laylin.

“He gives me feedback on what I need to do. He needs more lines going than one. We need depth,” Novakovich said. “I need to play my game and be a difference-maker.”

Sellie-Hanson appreciates Laylin and his tempo.

“He wants us to work as hard as we can each day. He expects us to be ready to go every single game and give it our all,” Sellie-Hanson said.

The Pipers found themselves on the losing end of their regular season series finale against the MIAC’s number two playoff seed, but there’s a silver lining. The team will travel to Minneapolis tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 26, to play the fourth seed Auggies to open the 2015 MIAC men’s ice hockey playoffs. Fifth seed Hamline swept Augsburg in their regular season series, by scores of 3-2 and 6-5, respectively.

For the team members who have been on the losing end of things the last year or two, there’s a lot to be excited for.

“It’s an honor to be a part of Hamline and to be a team that will be in the playoffs. Winning three games in two years was rough. I’m super excited and it’s a great way to end my career,” Rubbelke said. “It’s cool to put Hamline hockey back on the map.”

Novakovich feels similar to Rubbelke after finishing the regular season third on the team in goals scored with nine.

“It’s a huge turnaround after the past two years. That’s all we’re really looking for. Anything can happen in the playoffs,” Novakovich said.

The Pipers finished the regular season with an 11-10-4 (7-6-2 MIAC) record, just enough for the last spot in the playoffs. St. Thomas University won the MIAC with a record of 16-5-4 (10-3-3 MIAC). In the regular season, Hamline went 1-1-1 (0-1-1 MIAC) against the Tommies.