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Warriors set to battle No. 5 Lions in regional tournament

waldorf-warriors-outline_1By Matt Oliver

ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. – Clinching a third consecutive trip to this weekend’s American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division II Central Region Tournament was a mission for the Waldorf College hockey team this season.

“This is one of the goals that the team set for itself back in August,” Waldorf coach Brett Shelanski said. “To see the guys have this opportunity is exciting. They have worked the whole season for this to put themselves in a position to play for a national championship, so it’s a fun time of year.”

The Warriors (20-14) earned a No. 8 ranking in the final ACHA Division II poll – the highest ranking in program history – and open the regional tournament against No. 5 Lindenwood University (15-13-2) on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. at West Meadows Ice Arena.

Waldorf was tested by a challenging schedule all season long and competed in the Northern Collegiate Hockey League (NCHL) Tournament two weeks ago. The Warriors, who won the inaugural NCHL Tournament title on home ice during the 2014-15 season, saw their hopes of repeating fall short in a 2-1 loss to No. 7 Robert Morris University (26-10-1) in a NCHL Tournament semifinal on Feb. 13 at Marquette, Michigan.

The sting of a hard-fought loss in the NCHL Tournament semifinals has Waldorf bringing extra motivation to the ice as they enter the regional tournament.

“I think there is even more hunger now for this team than there normally would be with the conference tournament not going our way even though we played pretty good hockey there,” Shelanski said. “The guys do not want that feeling again and it has shown in our practices lately. They know what they are capable of accomplishing together and they understand that it is going to take their absolute best hockey from here on out and they are preparing themselves well for that.”

Depth has led to a balanced attack for the Warriors this season with 11 players contributing at least 21 points apiece. Spencer Johnson tops the squad with 29 points as the junior from Burnsville, Minnesota has scored eight goals and turned in a team-high 21 assists on the season.

Freshman Ryan Veillet, who earned all-rookie honorable mention recognition from the NCHL, has made a big impact in his first year with 28 points behind 13 goals and 15 assists.

Sophomore Jeffrey Bartel, senior Christian Weber and junior Alex Fleming have delivered 27 points apiece. Bartel, a second-team all-conference defenseman, and senior Reed Loucks are tied for first on the team with 16 goals each this season while Weber ranks second with 15 goals.

Weber, Fleming and sophomore Drew Soderberg garnered all-conference honorable mention status this year. Junior defenseman Artem Savelyev was named a second-team all-conference selection and has registered 24 points, along with Loucks and Soderberg.

Sophomore Matthew Liggett has provided 23 points on the year while sophomore Buddy Napier has notched 22 points. Napier landed on the NCHL All-Rookie First Team. Sophomore Travis Park finished the regular season with 21 points, freshman Robert Danyo recorded 17 points, senior Jake Taylor accounted for 12 points and senior Jacob Bales added 10 points. Danyo and freshman Rodney Engstrom also earned NCHL all-rookie honorable mention recognition.

Ronald Paulson was an all-conference honorable mention goaltender. The sophomore from Wainwright, Alberta posted a 19-10 record while racking up 635 saves. Paulson is sporting a .907 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average (GAA).

Waldorf junior Nicholas Carroll has collected 100 saves this season and sophomore Bruno Novotny has also made two appearances between the pipes.

For the first time in program history, the Warriors enter the regional tournament against a team they played during the regular season.

“We see it as a positive from a standpoint that we have been able to prepare specifically for an opponent that we are familiar with,” Shelanski said.

Lindenwood swept Waldorf, winning by scores of 6-2 and 3-1 in a Feb. 6-7 series at Albert Lea, Minnesota. The Warriors know what to expect from the Lions and are seeking redemption in the postseason.

“It helps with the game plan and some minor adjustments that we think we can make to give ourselves the best chance to be successful,” Shelanski said. “On the flip side, we don’t want to change our own game too much because we still have to go out and do what we do best and make sure that we still play to our own strengths.”

West Meadows Ice Arena is also a familiar setting for Waldorf. This year marks the team’s third regional trip to the arena. The Warriors also swept No. 7 DePaul University (19-11-1) on the same ice behind 4-3 and 4-2 decisions during a Jan. 15-16 series.

“I think familiarity with the venue is very important and even more so because we were so successful in that building just a month ago,” Shelanski said. “Every rink is different and plays a little bit different, so it certainly helps when the guys are familiar with their surroundings in a short, single-elimination tournament like this.”

With Waldorf possessing strong team chemistry and every player on the team buying in, a postseason run is an achievable goal for the Warriors.

“Everybody on this team wants the same thing and that is for the team to be as successful as possible,” Shelanski said. “They are all pulling in the same direction and they are willing to put the good of the team ahead of anything else. When you have that mindset and take it one game at a time, anything is possible.”

Returning to the regional tournament was Waldorf’s first priority this season.

“It is exciting to see the guys have this opportunity and know that they can be successful with it,” Shelanski said. “The whole year and all of the work they put in and the ups and downs of the season led up to this.”

Advancing to the ACHA Division II National Tournament, scheduled for March 18-22 at West Chester, Pennsylvania, has also been a goal for the Warriors. They’re embracing the chance to compete in the regional tournament and know it’s time to play their best hockey while approaching the postseason one game at a time.

“Though the team’s goals extend beyond this weekend, it’s always fun to have the chance to be one of the last 40 teams in the country standing at the end of the season out of 190,” Shelanski said. “You realize how many teams don’t get this opportunity and how difficult it is to get to this point. We want to make the most of it and be as successful as possible.”