NCAA DI Men's Hockey

CCHA Reasons To Watch: St. Thomas Set For Big Showdown With No. 2 Minnesota

CCHA Reasons To Watch: St. Thomas Set For Big Showdown With No. 2 Minnesota

CCHA teams are getting set for some big non-conference games with opponents including Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, Western Michigan and Alaska.

Oct 12, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
Watch The CCHA On FloHockey

There are several reasons to watch the CCHA on FloHockey this weekend, a lineup of games that includes including three nationally ranked squads. The major event—by far—is Friday night’s battle of the Twin Cities. 

#2 Minnesota vs St. Thomas 

“Hey, why not?” 

Rico Blasi—Minnesota hockey’s latest shiny object—was riffing with media kingpin Jess Myers on Tuesday, anticipating Friday’s game between the top-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers and Blasi’s St. Thomas club. The five-time CCHA coach of the year has clearly acclimated to the universe of Minnesota hockey: referring to Gophers coach Bob Motzko familiarly as “Bobby,” calling the Xcel Center “The X,” and knowing that most of his roster won’t be awed by Friday night’s NHL venue because from having played in the vaunted Minnesota high school tournament. It’s been a smooth transition for the Ontario native who did most of his college coaching in Oxford, Ohio at Miami University.

Blasi has good reason to be so easygoing heading into this matchup with last year’s national runner up—his Tommies gained an impressive split with then #8 St. Cloud last weekend. That’s a huge upgrade against the team that walloped Blasi’s Tommies 12-2 in STU’s Division I debut two seasons ago. 

“They [St. Cloud] were relentless . . . didn’t care that’s we had 15 Division III guys . . . they beat us up pretty good,” recalled Blasi, who has seen his club grow into a solid unit that has now earned a respected place in the world of Minnesota college hockey.

“This goes back to last year, as we start to solidify our identity, start to play with a lot more purpose and detail,” said Blasi. “Confidence was building as we move along . . . a different mindset, guys holding each other accountable.”

Guys like CCHA forward of the week Luke Manning, who netted three points in last Friday’s road upset over St. Cloud, one of a half-dozen veterans who endured the 32-loss campaign of 2021-22. The Blasi cultural overhaul, a culture centered on daily behavior and personal accountability, is now in Stage Three. And though Blasi did not take the bait when asked if his team should now be ranked—“I don’t think about it for two seconds,” he refuses to concede Friday’s game against the glamor team of college hockey.

“You don’t ever want to go into a game thinking you don’t have a chance . . . You have to believe in yourself and your teammates . . . You want to win, you want to perform, that’s what we do.”

One cannot overhype the possibilities of Friday’s matchup. The game will be on the radar of every college hockey prospect in the state, and Minnesota has by far the most prospects of any state in the nation. There will be swaths of purple in the 18,000 seats in the Xcel Center Friday night, fans all rooting loudly for a second upset in this season of dreams. Should David slay Goliath, the St. Thomas program will reap recruiting rewards for years to come. Creating such grand opportunities is part of the Blasi blueprint.

“You start to move forward and you feel you can play with St. Cloud. Then you got to take another step.”

Prediction: The status quo remains in place . . . for now. St. Thomas threatens but falls short vs the juggernaut from across the Mississippi.

Alaska vs #9 Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan readily admits that without Tech’s sweep of Alaska last year, they don’t make the 2023 NCAA tournament. That was a November series in which star goalie Blake Pietila stole a pair of games up in the Last Frontier. One of Shawhan’s directives this season was to not be so reliant on his overworked goaltender. Yet last weekend Pietila was forced to make a career-best 48 saves in the Huskies 2-2 tie with Duluth. 

Alaska comes into this weekend’s series having been swept at home by powerhouse Denver, a team ranked six places higher than Tech. The Nanooks are now battle-tested. The Huskies need to find offense in their home opener, or Pietila will be forced to be his best once again.

Prediction: Split at the Mac. Shawhan will be forced to jack up his Pairwise rankings against a different non-conference opponent.

#12 Western Michigan vs Ferris State

Ferris needed a miraculous comeback last Saturday to salvage a split with NCHC doormat Miami. The nationally ranked Broncos will be a much tougher opponent. The two clubs met last December at the Great Lakes Invitational championship game, an 8-2 victory for Western. Ferris may have gained some confidence from its opening day victory, but it won’t be nearly enough. 

Prediction: Western sweeps the home-and-home.

Bemidji State vs Wisconsin/Army

For Friday’s opener, coaching pals Mike Hastings and Tom Serratore renew their rivalry, only this time Hastings has swapped out his purple sweats for red. Wisconsin is coming off a double-shutout sweep of Augustana, while the Beavers got pushed around by Minnesota in an exhibition. In Saturday’s finale of the new-look IceBreaker tournament, the Cadets of West Point invade the shores of Lake Bemidji.

Prediction: A split for Bemidji. The Beavers fall to Hastings’s Badgers, but Bemidji prevails over Army.

#10 St. Cloud State vs Minnesota State

Luke Strand’s new-look Minnesota State Mavericks will be in over their head as they host St. Cloud for a pair. The Huskies will take out last weekend’s frustrations against a team still seeking its identity. Special teams will favor the visitors, as St. Cloud put on a devastating power play clinic last Saturday, torching St. Thomas for four goals in six attempts. Minnesota State must stay out of the box.

Prediction: The Draft Kings Sportsbook has declared the nationally ranked Huskies a decided underdog against the Mavericks this weekend, a program gutted this off season. Take advantage of Vegas’s oversight, take the Huskies and the goals. A sweep for St. Cloud.