SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Ryan Naumovski and the Augustana men’s hockey team want to set high standards for the nation’s newest Division I program.
Having those high standards paid off for the Vikings this past weekend. Augustana tied No. 2-ranked Denver 5-5 before winning a 6-5 shootout over the Pioneers and following that performance up with a 4-3 win over previously unbeaten Colorado College.
“We wanted to put our name on the map,” Naumovski told KELOLAND News on Tuesday at the Elmen Center. “It just shows that we can play with anyone in the country. I think they’re probably Top-5 (ranked program) every single year so it’s definitely a huge step in the program and for years to come for us.”
Naumovski, a transfer from Niagara, is one of 14 transfers on the Augustana roster. The Vikings are new, but they don’t lack college hockey experience. Through six games, Naumovski leads the Vikings with 19 shots, two goals and two assists. His four points are tied with Uula Ruikka and Arnaud Vachon for most on the team.
“We have 14 transfers that have good college experience, which is great,” Naumovski said. “The young guys just kind of feed off of us, what we’re doing, and they’ll do too.”
Naumovski gave credit to Augustana’s Director of Operations Brad Amundson and equipment manager Jacob Snuggerud for helping the team just focus on the game while traveling on the road.
Entering the game against second-ranked Denver, the 2022 national champions, Naumovski said the Vikings embraced the road environment.
Augustana quickly fell behind 3-0 but were able to end the first period only down one goal 3-2. After a scoreless second period, Augustana poured in three goals to Denver’s two goals to make it 5-5 after 60 minutes.
“The NCHC (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) is definitely a different animal than all the other conferences in college,” Naumovski said. “I think we just never looked backwards. I think we just took positives from the game throughout and then took everything five minutes at a time and played our game.”
The game officially goes down as a tie and the exhibition shootout loss won’t count against Denver. The tie and 6-5 shootout win meant a lot more to Naumovski and the Vikings.
“To a team and to a confidence level, I think it’s crucial,” Naumovski said. “It just builds our team camaraderie and having a win at the end of the day makes it even better.”
That confidence carried over into Saturday when the Vikings jumped out to a 1-0 lead over Colorado College when Naumovski scored off a rebounded shot. Augustana earned a 4-3 win, fighting through a 5-minute penalty kill in the third period.
“Going to Colorado College we had a lot of confidence,” Naumovski said. “Knew we could beat Denver, we could beat Colorado College even though they’re a great team and were undefeated.”
The Vikings will remain on the road for the next five games, heading to play Michigan Tech on Friday and Saturday. Augustana has three final home games at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center against Omaha (Nov. 25) and Minnesota State-Mankato (Jan. 5-6).
Naumovski said the Vikings are enjoying seeing the progress Midco Arena is making on Augustana’s campus. The home-opener for that game is scheduled for January 26.
“We’re considered underdogs probably in every game that we go into but now people respect us and will have to play us a little harder than they thought,” Naumovski said.