by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – As the players and staff of Concordia-Irvine prepare for their trip to Minneapolis and Fargo this weekend, rest assured: they’ve all seen snow.
Being able to surf and ski in the same day is one of the favorite Chamber of Commerce memes that comes out of Orange County, so the Eagles won’t be staring wide-eyed at the mounds of grayish, melting snow piled up outside the MSP terminal.
There is one thing that might befuddle the CUI crew a bit.
“All three games will be played in bubbles or domes, which will be a first for almost all of our players,” said CUI coach Ryan Brent.
As long as they don’t get their sticks caught in the revolving door, the bubble novelty will wear off quickly. All the Eagles will be left with is games with No. 5 St. John’s (Sat.), No. 3 North Dakota State (Sun.) and No. 1 St. Thomas (Tues.) in a four-day span.
Which is just the way they wanted it.
“We scheduled these games in this manner so we could simulate the conditions of nationals as closely as possible,” Brent said. “It will definitely test us mentally and physically, but I think it will pay off with experience for May. While the results aren't necessarily that important, the experience will be vital for us moving forward.”
This trip, which is the farthest the Eagles have been away from campus during the regular season, marks a conscious shift in the program’s scheduling approach.
“This trip came about really out of necessity,” Brent said. “We have experienced difficulties over the past couple of years with scheduling games within a bus ride that prepare us for nationals. In an effort to fill in the gaps on our schedule, we are making this trip out to Minnesota and will play Sierra Nevada and Montana State out in Tahoe in April.”
Initially, CUI was planning on attending “Judgement Weekend II” in early April in Illinois, but this trip sets up nicely with the school’s spring break. The in-game preparation has been daunting, however.
Each of the three programs on the docket brings a particular skill set that CUI will have to adjust to within a short time frame.
“They are all more different than similar,” Brent said of his UMLC foes. “Each team is unique in their approach to the game and they really take on the personality of their head coaches. The contrast in styles will give us a little taste of everything in our preparation for nationals.”
The off-field preparation has gone quite smoothly for such a logistics-heavy trek, and Brent was quick to thank his soon-to-be opponents for helping a bunch of California guys feel welcome in the Upper Midwest.
“I'd really like to thank [St. Thomas coach] Brian Gross and [NDSU coach] Zach Bosh for helping set this whole weekend up,” he said. “They were really instrumental in knocking down barriers for us to make the trip out and I know it wouldn't have happened without their input and flexibility. We are also really excited to play up at St. John's and want to thank the team and school for hosting us.”
Could one of these games be a preview of a quarterfinal? A semifinal? The whole enchilada? Could be. Even if so, it really won’t have a bearing on the final result in May. But it just might get the Eagles ready for the opportunity.
“The team is pretty excited about this trip,” Brent said. “I think both sides have wanted to play each other over the past couple of years, but unfortunately the matchups never materialized at nationals. Despite the excitement, we understand that the results this week don't really have much bearing on us achieving our goals of winning an SLC and national championship.
“No matter what happens, odds are the teams will look dramatically different a month and a half from now.”
What is the MCLA Division II Game of the Week for the period ending March 5?
— MCLA (@MCLA) March 1, 2017
Games of Note
No. 22 Minnesota at No. 8 Colorado, 7 p.m. – Friday
It’s tough tell whether Minnesota is visiting Colorado at the right time or the wrong one. An argument for the former would be the Buffs are still clearly looking for some defensive consistency. They are giving up nearly 13 goals a game in their 1-2 start, even allowing goal-starved ASU to crack double-digits.
On the other hand, this has likely been a point of emphasis this week for John Galvin and his staff, so the Gophers might be running into a motivated backline in Boulder. What the Buffs definitely shouldn’t do is take Minnesota lightly, as they have a bunch of confident scorers, led by Amar Batra (5.86 ppg).
No. 1 St. Thomas at No. 3 North Dakota State, 8 p.m. – Friday
Is this the year? Is this finally the time for North Dakota State to take its seat at the head of the UMLC table? They’ve got as good a shot as any. The Bison are playing at home, have a couple of games under their belt and look to be as big a threat as anyone to the Tommies’ crown.
St. Thomas lost a couple of key defensive pieces from last year’s run, so it will be interesting to see if NDSU can make them pay at a higher rate than they’ve been able to manage. It may just boil down to the Bisons’ multi-headed faceoff unit against the Tommies Erik Thysse at the dot.
Be sure to check out the_mcla Snapchat this weekend as NDSU has the keys for the Bisons' games against the Tommies and CUI.
No. 14 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Florida State, 2 p.m. – Saturday
This is a spicy little trip for the Spartans with the Seminoles in the Top 10 and Georgia Tech, which MSU will play on Sunday in this Coaches vs. Cancer event, being newly anointed No. 1. I’m guessing Cam Holding wouldn’t want it any other way. If Sparty sneaks out of Georgia at 1-1, it will have to be considered a first class trip.
What's the MCLA Division I Game of the Week for the period ending March 5?
— MCLA (@MCLA) March 1, 2017
No. 4 BYU at No. 13 Arizona State, 7 p.m. – Saturday
A third of their way through their six-game road trip and the Cougars are 1-1. Not optimum, but not the end of the world. Now BYU is entering the middle – and toughest – portion of this run starting with the Sun Devils on Saturday (they play GCU on Monday). They’ve managed six goals per game against UNLV and Cal Poly, and there won’t be many freebies against ASU. Big test for the Cougs’ offense.
No. 21 Virginia Tech at No. 2 Grand Canyon, 7 p.m. - Saturday
The Hokies’ setback against South Carolina softens the edge on this contest, especially with the Lopes playing in their friendly confines. For me, this will be more of an insight as to whether Virginia Tech is a serious threat to Georgia Tech, Florida State or even the Gamecocks in the SELC tourney.
No. 4 Concordia-Irvine at No. 5 St. John’s, 7 p.m. – Saturday
This is the one contest that the Eagles will be favored in during their three-day stop in the Upper Midwest, at least by the rankings, anyway. The last time they met was in the semifinals of the 2015 MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour with CUI walking away with a 14-12 triumph. With the way the Johnnies are scoring so far, I would expect something in that range again.
No. 4 Concordia-Irvine at No. 3 North Dakota State, 12 p.m. – Sunday
This will be as tough a back-to-back game as anyone plays this year, and will really test the Eagles. CUI hasn’t been using Max Satossky much in the faceoff role since arriving in Orange County, but that was his primary function at Cabrini (Pa.). He might have to take a more active role at that position at some point on the trip.
No. 20 Fort Lewis vs. No. 18 San Diego, 1:30 p.m. – Sunday
The Fort kicks off its spring break trip to SoCal with a dandy of a matchup against San Diego. This is one of the second-tier games that has taken on a lot more significance with the NAIA exodus that has opened up four more spots in the tourney. Fort Lewis has games against CUI and Fullerton on this trip, so they would do well to kick off with a win against a tough Toreros outfit.