Special teams, strong goaltending lift the Royals past the Johnnies
By Aaron Heckmann and Annika Carr
BLAINE, MINN. – Bethel men’s hockey coach Chris McKelvie said he expected Friday night’s game against St. John’s University to be close.
That’s exactly what it ended up being.
The Royals had to grind all game long in their 2-1 win over the Johnnies at Bethel University Arena at the National Sports Center in front of an attendance of 522 to earn the series split after falling 4-1 against them a night earlier.
“It was good from a standpoint of we just were pretty resilient,” McKelvie said. “We didn’t like the way we played last night, so we had to just find a way to get it done tonight.”
Freshman goaltender Austin Ryman helped keep Bethel in front with strong goaltending all night long, stopping 35 of 36 shots for a .972 save percentage and coming a mere three minutes and 44 seconds from his third straight shutout.
“Our goalies have been awesome,” McKelvie said. “He deserved a shutout. We didn’t think that goal was in, but it is what it is, so he did awesome, [and] he stood on his head when he needed to.”
That shorthanded goal in the final minutes stood as the only mistake St. Johns capitalized on even though they had four power play opportunities in the tight, low-scoring game that featured a physical matchup.
“The smaller ice surface really helps us, so we played really good the first two [periods],” McKelvie said. “They made a push in the third, made it a little bit dicey, but at the end of the day, we found a way to win.”
With important conference points on the line, the Royals penalty kill went four-for-four on the night, and McKelvie said it’s been “dynamite” all season. And freshman forward Tyler Braccini cashed in for Bethel eight seconds into their second period power play to take a two goal lead for his fourth goal of the season after senior Justin Kelley opened the scoring in the first frame, scoring his sixth of the year. Both goals beat Saint John’s goaltender Bailey Huber blocker side, and freshman defenseman Spencer Kring picked up assists on both goals.
Bethel had to overcome a slow start to the game en route to its fifth win in the past seven games, which included an upset over No. 15-ranked Wisconsin Eau Claire. Their five game unbeaten streak (4-0-1), which included a tie with Gustavus Adolphus before an eventual win in the shootout two weeks ago, ended in Thursday night’s loss.
The Royals committed a penalty 47 seconds into the game, didn’t have a shot on goal until about five minutes in and allowed a breakaway and 2-on-1 odd man rush in the first period.
But it all goes back to the goaltending and work of the special teams in a game where they won a lot of board battles and were able to take control of the game even though St. John responded with a heavy, physical game.
“We have so much faith in our goalie, so much faith in our defense,” senior captain Sam Wilhite said. “I think all around tonight, we played really well and blocked shots we needed to.”
So playing a full, well-rounded, consistent game is something they want to focus on moving forward.
“We still got to fight for consistency, but overall we’re playing really good hockey,” McKelvie said. … “We got to be able to play a complete 60 minutes and play confident and play free and when we do that, we will be really good.”
The Royals improved to 8-3-1 and are tied for first with St. Johns in the MIAC with 11 points. Their attention moves to an outdoor game at St. Louis Park Recreation Center next Saturday, Dec. 10, against St. Olaf College in a non-conference game.