The Lawrence University hockey team may have finally gotten over the proverbial hump.

After a season of dealing with close games and heart-wrenching losses, the Vikings won one close game and put together a gritty overtime tie last weekend to finish the regular season. Those three valuable points clinched home ice for this weekend’s Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

“Although we have lost close games and given away too many third-period leads, we improved in the third period this past weekend,” said Lawrence coach Mike Szkodzinski, who has seen his team lose nine one-goal games this season. “That will build confidence within the locker room. We were a young team at the beginning of the year and have learned to pay attention to the details more consistently as of late.”

The Vikings finished with a 7-15-3 record and took second in the MCHA’s Northern Division. Lawrence hosts Northland College (9-15-1) in a quarterfinal playoff series at the Appleton Family Ice Center. Friday’s game is at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s game is at 4 p.m.

Lawrence enters the playoffs coming off a pair of good performances against Lake Forest College, which travels to No. 15 MSOE in the other quarterfinal series. The Vikings needed that strong showing just to get into the playoffs and delivered.

“We have had a number of opportunities slip away from us this year and found ourselves fighting for a playoff spot,” Szkodzinski said. “Our guys didn’t blink. They battled and did what they needed to do this past weekend. We are proud of their resilience.  The trials they went through this year will only help us as we start the postseason.”

The Vikings enter the postseason with a goaltender coming off a pair of strong performances. Freshman Fabian Sivnert, a Swede who transferred at midseason from Bemidji State University, was in net for both games against Lake Forest. He posted a .961 save percentage and 1.44 goals against average and was named the MCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

“Every team needs a good goaltender to win come playoff time,” Szkodzinski said. “We feel that we have multiple good goaltenders, but Fabian is on top of his game right now. His play has given us confidence and allowed us to be more aggressive at every position. If he continues to play at the level he displayed this weekend, we have a much better chance to be successful.”

The Lawrence defense has been better over the last month, and the Vikings are allowing only 2.9 goals per game in their last eight contests. Part of that improvement comes from the penalty kill, where Lawrence is killing off power plays at an .875 clip in that same eight-game stretch.

On the flip side, Lawrence hasn’t been scoring as much recently despite averaging 40 shots per game in the last eight contests. The Vikings are averaging only 2.2 goals per game in that stretch.

“We are generating plenty of opportunities,” Szkodzinski said. “At this time of year, teams tend to stop the first shot, and it is the second opportunity that counts. We need to make sure we are shooting the puck and working to find the second chances. The only thing that needs to improve is our desire to get to the rebounds after the initial shot is taken.”

Lawrence has seniors and freshmen leading the team in scoring. Senior forward Phil Bushbacher is tops on the team with 13 goals and senior captain Brad Scurfield is next with 12. Three freshmen, Logan Lemirande (team-high 26 points), Rudi Pino (22 points) and Brandon Boelter (20 points) are in the top five on the squad in scoring.

“We are deeper up front than we have ever been, but at times, we have failed to stick to our d-first mentality,” Szkodzinski said. “We sometimes try to outscore opponents, and that has never been our strength.”

Szkodzinski commented after last Friday’s win that the game was won “in the Lawrence way.” The Vikings will need to continue that style in order to advance in the playoffs.

“This group knows what they are capable of when they are playing well,” Szkodzinski said. “They have also found out what can happen if they do not bring their best game or get distracted. Each year is a journey, and this year has been quite a ride.”

Klusendorf wins MWC honor

Senior forward Conor Klusendorf was named the MWC Player of the Week following a pair of Lawrence basketball wins last week.

For the week, Klusendorf averaged 21.0 points while shooting 65.4 percent (17-26) from the floor. He also averaged 6.5 rebounds per game and 1.0 blocks per contest.

In a 63-61 win at Lake Forest on Feb. 12, Klusendorf scored 21 points and grabbed five rebounds while hitting 8-of-13 shots from the floor. In a 114-106 overtime win over Grinnell College this past Saturday, Klusendorf again scored 21 points and hit 9-of-13 shots from the floor. He also grabbed eight rebounds.

Records fall

Lawrence swimmers broke seven school records at the Midwest Conference Championships last weekend.

Emily Flack set school records in the 100-yard backstroke (1:00.23) and 200 backstroke (2:10.12), and Hayley Cardinal set new marks in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.11) and 200 breaststroke (2:30.03).

Lawrence also set records in the 200 medley relay (1:53.20), 400 medley relay (4:06.51) and 800 freestyle relay (7:57.04).

Track headed to MWC meet

The Lawrence track teams are headed to the MWC Championships this weekend at Monmouth. Both Lawrence teams finished seventh a season ago, and the Vikings have several contenders for individual titles.

On the men’s side, senior Sam Stevens is a contender in both the 3,000 and 5,000 meters while freshman JP Ranumas is one of the top 60-meter hurdlers in the league.

Rose Tepper leads the women’s contingent and is looking for the title in the high jump. Freshman Clare Bruning could be a factor in the distance events and is coming off an all-conference cross country season.

Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.