Mission Impossible? Not for Pipers

Hamline men’s ice hockey team beats St. Mary’s Cardinals 4-2 in Winona to capture the 2014-2015 MIAC Men’s Hockey Championship on Saturday, March 7.

Hamline hockey’s fan base traveled to Winona, Minnesota, to see them win their second ever conference championship.

Paul Patane, Senior Reporter

The 2014-2015 Pipers continue to create magic on ice after rallying from two one goal deficits to overpower the Cardinals in enemy territory. The 14-10-4 (7-6-3 MIAC) men’s hockey team has received an automatic bid to play in the NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey tournament.

In the conference championship, Hamline fell behind 0-1 after giving up a power play goal in the first period. Later in the period, junior forward Brandon Zurn tied the game with an unassisted goal.

Midway through the second period, St. Mary’s capitalized on another power play and retook the lead, 1-2. With less than a minute left in the period, junior forward Charlie Adams tied the game again, 2-2. Adams’ clutch power play goal completely changed the momentum of the game heading into intermission. Assists on the goal came from Zurn and senior defenseman and team captain, Joe Rubbelke.

Adams knew he had a great scoring opportunity with his longtime friend and teammate Zurn on the ice with him. In fact, Adams and Zurn have been friends and teammates dating back to before they were in high school at Mahtomedi together.

“We’ve [Zurn and I] played together a long time. It’s been a good year playing with him,” Adams said.

Good may be an understatement as Adams and Zurn have combined for 34 goals and 32 assists this season. However, things didn’t immediately click for them early on.

“It was different at first. We didn’t have the chemistry early in the season,” Zurn said. “But then we started to be able to find each other on the ice.”

Adams and Zurn didn’t just find each other on the ice against St. Mary’s, they found the back of the net, repeatedly.

In the third period, the Pipers took the game over after scoring two more times. Zurn had a second goal and first-year forward Chad Hennum halted a potential Cardinals comeback by scoring an empty-netter after St. Mary’s pulled their goalie for an extra forward.

Anytime the Cardinals seemed to gather momentum in the third period, sophomore goalie John Sellie-Hanson rose to the challenge. He ended the game with 28 saves, many of which were timely.

“John’s a rock,” Zurn said. “It’s really hard to get into his head.”

In addition to incredible chemistry between Adams and Zurn, Head Coach Cory Laylin has noticed greater cohesiveness from his third line of forwards and defensemen.

“Our third line has stepped up real big. It’s team cohesiveness and how the guys have formed into a team,” Laylin said. “Guys have accepted their roles. Our penalty killers love killing penalties. Our power play guys love power plays.”

Senior forward Andrew Herbert is a regular fixture on the third line and has embraced a defense first role.

“I think our main focus is on defense every night. If we can get a goal or two every game, that’s great too,” Herbert said.

In the 2010-2011 season, Hamline’s men’s hockey program went 17-7-5 (9-3-4 MIAC), won the MIAC Championship and made a run in the NCAA Division III tournament. The following year, the program fell off a sharp cliff and eventually hit rock bottom by winning only three games over the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons.

With some new faces and a first-year head coach entering the season after so much losing, many people didn’t know what to expect.

“Nobody really believed in us at the beginning of the year. I knew what we had and I like to be the underdog,” Layin said.

This season, the Pipers snuck into the playoffs after earning the fifth and final playoff spot. They faced an uphill battle, defeating fourth seed Augsburg 4-3 on Feb. 26, and then top seed St. Thomas, 6-3 on Feb. 28, to set up the championship victory against second seed St. Mary’s.

Going from worst to first is not lost on the team and their accomplishments this season.

“It’s indescribable. No one thought we’d be here,” Zurn said.

Rubbelke played on the teams that won only three games in two seasons, and as captain, takes a great deal of pride in the team’s turnaround.

“It’s unbelievable. There’s no better way to go out,” Rubbelke said after the victory against St. Mary’s.

Herbert also appreciates going out a winner.

“At the beginning of the year, I just wanted to get in the playoffs,” Herbert said. “It’s huge for us and huge for the program. My class helped put Hamline back on the map.”

Even though Winona is a two hour drive away from St. Paul, President Linda Hanson, students and faculty showed up in droves to cheer on their hockey team in the championship. Rubbelke and his teammates have appreciated and drawn energy from the large Piper crowds at their road playoff games.

“The crowd was unreal [against St. Mary’s]. It’s awesome to see all the students come out and support us,” Rubbelke said.

Helping turn the program around and winning the championship in front of a large Hamline crowd wasn’t lost on Adams either.

“It feels amazing,” Adams said. “It’s been absolutely awesome.”

Hamline University, making its first appearance in the NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey tournament since 2011, received a first round bye. The Pipers will play UW-Stevens Point (21-6-1) at Stevens Point in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 21. The Pipers defeated Stevens Point in St. Paul at Oscar Johnson Arena, 4-5 on Friday, Jan. 10 in their only regular season matchup against each other. If Hamline defeats Stevens Point, they’ll return to the Twin Cities and play in the semifinals at University of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena on Friday, March 27. The championship round will be also be played in Ridder Arena on Saturday, March 28.