The Lawrence University hockey team should start growing those playoff beards now because the Vikings are already in full do-or-die mode.

This season has been a struggle at times for the young Vikings, and it is quickly becoming crunch time. With three weeks left in the regular season, Lawrence finds itself battling just to get into the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

“We certainly know where we stand,” Lawrence coach Mike Szkodzinski said. “We understand that every point is crucial at this time of the year. We already feel like we are in the middle of our playoff run. It is going to be an exciting final three weeks of the season.”

The top eight teams make the NCHA playoffs, and Lawrence (5-13-1, 4-8-0 NCHA) currently holds down seventh place with eight points. Marian University is just ahead of the Vikings with 11 points, and MSOE and Northland College are tied for eighth place with six points.

The tight race made Lawrence’s 3-2 win last Saturday over No. 15 St. Scholastica positively huge.

“Being successful against a regional power like St. Scholastica is special,” Szkodzinski said. “They are well-coached and play hard in every aspect. And the fact that we had yet to win in 2014, it was certainly a welcome result for our group.”

That group is dominated by young players (seven freshmen, seven sophomores on the roster) at key positions. Captain and defenseman Brandon Boelter is a sophomore, top scorer Blake Roubos is a freshman and freshman goaltender Mattias Soderqvist has been on the team for less than two months.

Roubos is the leading rookie scorer in the conference at 1.06 points per game, and four Lawrence sophomores rank in the top six on the team in scoring. On the defensive side, four of the eight defensemen who have consistently been in the lineup are freshmen or sophomores.

Soderqvist has emerged as the top goaltender and picked up his first collegiate win against St. Scholastica. After a rough start, Soderqvist has raised his save percentage to .903 and lowered his goals against average to 3.73.

“Mattias has worked very hard since his arrival,” Szkodzinski said. “He is always one of the first guys on the ice and last guys off. His quiet, calm demeanor has settled our bench at key times. He is playing consistently, which is essential at that position.”

The talent on the squad has made the Vikings spectacular at times, highlighted by a 5-4 win over No. 2 St. Norbert College in early December, and very inconsistent at others.

“There are a number of factors, including youth at key spots, injuries and other unfortunate situations,” Szkodzinski said. “However, every program faces the same things, and we just need to find a way to truly commit to our style of play. We need to play structured and organized. We simply cannot play as individuals if we want to put our best product on the ice.

“Until we prove that we can bring our best night in and night out, we will continue to be up and down. We need 20 guys each night to contribute. We can’t have 18 or 19, we need all 20 guys to be fully engaged when the puck drops. If we get that, we have a chance to beat anyone as we have proven over the course of the year.”

Lawrence has a pair of wins over ranked opponents this season, and that marks the first time that has happened in the program’s history.

The Vikings have six games left in the regular season, two against Lake Forest College (including Friday at home), two at No. 1-ranked Adrian College and two at home vs. Finlandia University.

If the Vikings want to put off shaving, they are going to have to find a few more wins between now and the middle of next month.

Saunders earns NCHA honor

Senior forward Huck Saunders was named the NCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against No. 15 St. Scholastica.

Saunders, a native of Seattle, Wash., scored a pair of goals in Lawrence’s 3-2 win over the Saints last Saturday. He also scored Lawrence’s lone goal in a 4-1 loss to St. Scholastica last Friday.

Saunders now leads the team with nine goals, and he has six assists for 15 points this season.

Scoring landmarks

Basketball players Chris Siebert and Alex Deshler continue to move up their respective scoring lists.

On the men’s side, Siebert is now tied with his head coach, Joel DePagter, for eighth place on the Lawrence career list with 1,243 points. Siebert, a senior guard from Baraboo, Wis., needs just five points to move past Lawrence Hall of Famers Matt Miota and Joel Ungrodt and into sixth place. Siebert is just 100 points away from passing Doug Fyfe (1,342) for fourth place.

Deshler, a senior guard from La Crosse, Wis., now has 811 points and ranks 15th on the women’s career scoring list. Deshler needs just 58 points over the final seven games to reach the top 10. Carrie Van Groll ranks 10th with 868 points.