Rising to the top of the crop

Expected to finish seventh in a conference of nine teams, the Pipers instead head to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The Pipers celebrate after junior defender Cody Bentzel (2; second from left) scored Hamline’s lone goal against Gustavus last Friday. Hamline ended up losing 1-3.

Rebecca Higgins, Reporter

Underestimating Hamline men’s hockey team is a mistake. The Pipers refused to accept predictions that they would finish in seventh place, and they began the season planning for playoff games.

“The belief all year in our locker room is that we have something special. We knew from the first few captain’s practices that we have the horses to go on a long playoff run this season,” senior defender Parsa Monsef said.

At the beginning of the season, the team showed promising signs. After the Pipers’ first nine games of the season, they had a record of 6-1-2. Like any underdog story, the team had to go through a series of trials. After that dominant opening stretch, they went on to lose their next five games.

“We started hot our first [part] of the season. Then we went through a rough patch that was very humbling,” Monsef said.

The season has held many peaks and valleys for the Pipers. Regardless, they have secured a spot in the 2016-17 playoffs. This will be the third consecutive season that the team has gone to the playoffs, setting a record for the Pipers. In addition, Hamline’s men’s hockey team had a regular season record of 10-9-6, the best regular season the team has seen under Head Coach Cory Laylin.

“I am very proud of this team. They have all really stepped up this year,” Laylin said. “One player I am especially proud of is Russ [Jordan]. Last year he only scored one goal and now he has become our top scorer.”

Junior forward Russ Jordan has scored 32 points (18 goals, 14 assists) during the season, making him the top scorer in the MIAC. Senior forward Brandon Wahlin is tied for third place in the MIAC with 27 points, followed by sophomore forward Mitch McPherson in fifth with 24 points. The forwards are not the only players that have stepped up this season.

Mitch Hall is the highest scoring defender in the MIAC with 27 points, including 21 assists. The entire team has improved and continues to be successful.

“We like being the underdog. It takes the pressure off our guys and they can play their game,” Laylin said.

The Pipers finished fourth in the MIAC with 27 points, two points ahead of Concordia. Even as the team is entering the playoffs as the fourth seed, they feel comfortable with their placement.

During the 2014-15 season Hamline entered the playoffs as the fifth seed after snagging a point in the final weekend of the regular season. That point allowed them to sneak past both Gustavus and St. John’s, who finished with 24 points apiece. The Pipers went on to become playoff champions that season.

“There are a lot of similarities between this season and the 2014-15 season. We have a similar setup and have exceeded expectations,” Laylin said.

The Pipers enter the playoffs with a 2-1-3 record over their last six games, with their three ties resulting in two shootout wins and one loss. The final weekend of the season saw the Pipers taking on Gustavus, who finished eighth in the MIAC with 16 points and a 4-10-2 record against the MIAC.

The Pipers came out flat at home on Friday, losing 1-3, with a second period Cody Bentzel goal providing their only scoring. The Pipers put up much more of a fight on Saturday in St. Peter. They countered every punch the Gusties threw at them, and pushed in the game-tying goal with a little more than three minutes left in the third period. The game remained tied for the remainder of regulation and into overtime and ended in a 4-4 tie. The Pipers lost the shootout for the extra point 2-3.

“The bye week hurt us [against Gustavus]. We are now a hundred percent focused on Concordia.” Laylin said. “We are going to look at videos of Concordia playing [to know what we are up against]. We are going to do a lot of walkthroughs without overworking our guys.”

The Pipers last saw Concordia in mid-January and were pretty evenly matched in two games on Concordia’s home ice. On Jan. 13, Hamline tied the Cobbers with a score of 1-1 and lost the shootout 1-2. The next day, Hamline shocked the Cobbers, winning 4-2 and counting two goals from Jordan and individual tallies from junior forward Jaycob McCombs and junior forward Brandon Reinholz.

The Pipers begin the playoffs tomorrow at home against the Cobbers, with the game time yet to be announced. Check the Hamline athletics site or the MIAC men’s hockey page for further details.