2023 Michigan Tech vs Minnesota State - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Weekend Belongs To Michigan Tech And Minnesota State

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Weekend Belongs To Michigan Tech And Minnesota State

Ordinarily, there would be four story capsules leading up to the next CCHA action, but this weekend belongs to the Michigan Tech-Minnesota State series.

Feb 23, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Weekend Belongs To Michigan Tech And Minnesota State

Ordinarily, there would be four story capsules leading up to CCHA action this weekend, especially with Northern Michigan’s late-season sprint for home ice against Bowling Green, but this weekend belongs to the Michigan Tech-Minnesota State series. 

Championship merchandise has been manufactured, a fabulous trophy is being played for (with either or both clubs playing for a chance to skate with the league’s Holy Grail), all while a record storm howls in Mankato. 

Welcome to March Madness – in February.

History Refresher

Houghton mining baron James MacNaughton was a miserly sort, fighting to suppress labor wages throughout the early 1900s, but when it came to hockey, he was quite generous. 

In 1913, he forked over $2,000 (over $60,000 today) for the creation of one of hockey’s grandest trophies, the MacNaughton Cup. 

The 40-pound silver chalice trails after Michigan Tech, the grand prize for the regular-season champion of whatever league the Huskies play in. 

Tech, however, has not won it outright since the 1975-1976 season, when under the leadership of the legendary John MacInnes, they had it to themselves four times in eight years. 

They did manage to share the trophy with Minnesota State in 2016 but haven’t had it to themselves in nearly half a century. 

The Coaches Weigh In

Getting the trophy into the hands of the sons of Copper Country will be an uphill climb, as the Huskies trail the Mavericks by two points in the standings.

It will require a pair of regulation wins to claim the championship outright. A pair of overtime wins will earn them only a share. A single loss in regulation, and Tech’s improbably run – the coaches predicted the Huskies to finish near the back of the CCHA pack back in September – will fall short. 

Head coach Joe Shawhan agreed with his peers at season’s start. 

“I would have never, never thought that we’d be going into this [series] with a chance of bringing the MacNaughton Cup home,” Shawhan said, thinking back to an offseason of despair because of the scoring talent lost to graduation. 

But here they are, holders of the best Pairwise Ranking in the CCHA (11), with a chance to hoist the magnificent Cup that was created in their back yard.

The storm that is raging throughout the USA’s northern plains canceled Mike Hastings’ midweek presser, but he managed to speak to USCHO reporter Jack Hittinger. 

“We just knew at the end of the day it would be close, and it’s following that script,” Hastings said. 

He’s whipped his Mavericks into this splendid two-horse race, the favorite and the long shot separated from the pack, as they hurtle down the stretch. 

For college hockey fans, there simply are no reasons not to watch.

Inside The Glass

This week’s CCHA podcast spent much of its allotted time breaking down the series and concluded with the hockey bedrock that the team that scores first probably will win. 

I disagree. Minnesota State has the edge, regardless. 

One might look at MSU’s six home losses this season and declare them vulnerable at the Mayo Clinic Events Center. That total is misleading, as four of those losses came in December, when the team was in a goaltending quandary. Those days are over.

Sophomore Keenan Rancier has spent the new year shrinking his GAA (1.89) and elevating his save pct. (.912) into the upper echelons as MSU’s undisputed number one goalie. 

The Mavericks have suffered only a single loss in regulation in their past 12 games, and the winning goal in that home loss was shrouded in controversy. They have shrugged off the Dryden McKay hangover and are a national power once again.

Tech coach Shawhan is the embodiment of the term, “Crazy Like a Fox.” 

He comes across as a quintessential Yooper, climbing out of his pickup truck after a day working with his hands, not his mind. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as he and his staff are passionate scientists of the game, seeking answers to a game in which outcomes often appear to be at the whims of the hockey gods.

Shawhan has shaped his club on the model created by Hastings’ dynasty. It’s a group that battles relentlessly in the “hard ice,” desperate for possession. 

Shawhan talks about heat maps that track the puck through all the battle zones. The crowning achievement of that strategy often is realized in the second period, when the attacking team can change players on the fly, while the defenders are gassed. 

Possession dominance is reflected in the shots-on-goal differential, and these two teams lead the conference in that area: Tech is second in the CCHA with a plus-123, and Minnesota State is a staggering plus-367. 

The Huskies are very good, yet they trail MSU by nearly a 350-shot differential. 

A key element to the Mavs puck ownership is faceoff dominance. Minnesota leads the country by winning close to 60% of its draws, while Tech is well below 50%, despite all the practice time devoted to the art of the dot. 

Shawhan won’t catch the masters until his club can even the contests at the drop of the puck.


Tech has the best goalie in the west, the inevitable Dryden Award finalist – Blake Pietila. “Mr. Zero” has a nation-best eight shutouts. 

To those who believe the sport of crunch-time hockey should be renamed “Goalie” – and there a many of you – then all the speculation above is for naught. Tech will win, due to superior goaltending. Not so fast.

In the depth of Hastings’ very dark December, he revealed his Christmas wish: a .900 save percentage. Thanks to the emergence of Rancier, he now has that, and more. 

Fans who saw MSU’s shootout victory up in Houghton over Thanksgiving will recall Rancier outplaying Pietila down the stretch, despite being knocked woozy in overtime. The goaltending gap between the two teams has closed considerably.

Kid Clutch

Shawhan spent time on his radio show talking about the leadership of MSU senior Ryan Sandelin, who was out with the flu in last Saturday’s OT loss to Bemidji. 

Sandelin, who scored a monster goal in that Thanksgiving series, should be back in the lineup this weekend. He has sparked the Mavericks in the postseason in their consecutive trips to the Frozen Four. He surely will be a factor, a major reason to watch this weekend.


Draft Kings has the hometown Mavericks as goal-and-a-half favorites Friday night, with good reason. Should their prognostication be accurate, and smart money agrees, the MacNaughton Cup and the merchandise will be handed out on Friday night, clearing the way for viewing the Bowling Green-Northern series Saturday.