NCAA DI Men's Hockey

CCHA RinkRap: Scoring Faucet Cranked Wide Open, ROY Race Is Gripping

CCHA RinkRap: Scoring Faucet Cranked Wide Open, ROY Race Is Gripping

This week in CCHA RinkRap: A scoring faucet is cranked open in Marquette, a Mankato-themed sequel in Bemidji and a gripping horse race for CCHA ROY award.

Feb 20, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA RinkRap: Scoring Faucet Cranked Wide Open, ROY Race Is Gripping

This week on CCHA RinkRap: A scoring faucet is cranked wide open in Marquette, a Mankato-themed sequel in Bemidji and a gripping horse race for CCHA Rookie of the Year award.

The Dam Is Broken At Northern

It took 30 games. 

On paper, Northern Michigan had enough offense to populate the power play units of two clubs, yet the Cats struggled all year to reach the .500 mark, averaging only a shade over two goals per game in the new year, suffering two shutouts along the way. 

Then, a switch was pulled – as if by magic. With a groan heard throughout the CCHA, Frankenstein’s eyes opened wide. “It lives!” 

The Wildcats inflicted offensive carnage this past weekend in Marquette, which included 17 goals, an astounding 6-for-8 on the power play, and 17 players inking up the scoresheets against a pair of quality goalies from Ferris. 

Familiar names, such as Andre Ghantous (3-2-5) and Rylan Van Unen (a point each game from the blue line) found the limelight, but so did gifted newcomers Artem Shlaine (1-4-5) and Joey Larson (2-2-4). 

Sleeping giant Vincent de Mey (three goals over the last two series) has found his stride, creating an embarrassment of offensive riches for coach Grant Potulny. 

The avalanche of goals set records in the CCHA.

“That’s the team I thought we were going to have all year,” Potulny said. “I never thought we would have trouble scoring . . . [we’re] starting to see it come to life.”

Getting two dozen modern athletes to play to their potential, regardless of their skill, can be a frustrating puzzle. Potulny had to be at his creative best to solve the riddle. 

On Monday, he scrapped practice to have his charges play Reverse Charades. 

“Hockey is supposed to be fun,” Potulny said. 

He clearly pushed the right buttons, and an offensive monster was created – just in time for the postseason. 

“Hopefully, we’re not done yet, and we’ve got a run in front of us,” he added.

This from the man whose   club has KO’d three favorites in the league tourney the last two seasons, all while playing on the road

CCHA teams still can’t predict how the hockey gods will shuffle the forthcoming Mason Cup matchups, but every goalie in the circuit wants to avoid the green and gold.

The Great Horse Race

After Lleyton Roed’s tie-breaking goal against Minnesota State Friday night, Bemidji’s veteran broadcaster Brian Schultz put the freshman on a pedestal. 

“Dare I say, the league’s rookie of the year!” 

Entirely justifiable sentiments, based on Schultz’s observation of Roed’s body of work this season, but only moments prior to Roed’s heroic 11th goal, Joey Larson snapped in numbers 10 and 11 against Marquette, only eight seconds apart, tying a league record. 

Suddenly, social media lit up with interest in the riveting horse race that is the CCHA’s Rookie-of-the-Year competition. 

The rabid hockey community of Michigan Tech insists that Kyle Kukkonen, with his 14 goals, is the logical front-runner. That prompted an immediate response from the Great State of Hockey.

Speaking of Minnesota, St. Thomas freshman Josh Eernisse has 14 goals himself. 

That’s five legit candidates, and that doesn’t count NMU goalie Beni Halasz, a two-time CCHA Rookie of the Month.

Two of the forwards listed above won’t even make the All-Rookie team. The only thing guaranteed in this race is that fans’ feelings eventually will be bruised, and debates will rage in taverns in and around the Great Lakes.

The Mankato Kid

For over a decade, Minnesota State is the winningest team in college hockey, by far. 

Fifth-year senior Andy Carroll did the math and announced last week that the Mavericks class of 2022 was a staggering 100 games over .500 during its dynasty. 

That’s why Bemidji’s accomplishment of taking seven points out of 12 in this year’s series with Minnesota State is a singular one. No league rival has done it during the Hastings era.

Despite hockey being a team game, with 40 participants playing each contest, you actually can point to one individual responsible for the Beavers regular-season conquest of MSU. In a tale oozing with irony, as it was a Mankato product who inflicted the most pain on his hometown Mavericks.

Bemidji senior defenseman Kyle Looft fired home his second overtime thriller against Minnesota State on Saturday, a 50-foot bomb that was nearly identical to his slapper/dagger from the Beavers’ win in Mankato two months prior. Those two shots represented a four-point swing in the standings, more than enough to turn the tide in favor of Bemidji.

Looft spent four years playing high school hockey for Mankato West, directly under the nose of the Minnesota State coaching staff. 

Well-traveled recruiter Todd Knott could have saved himself thousands of airline miles – and earned his club a pair of wins this season – had he chosen to stick around All-Seasons Arena in Mankato from 2013-2017.