NCAA DI Men's Hockey

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota State, Michigan Tech Ready To Test Mettle

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota State, Michigan Tech Ready To Test Mettle

Both Minnesota State and Michigan Tech will be hosting high-profile non-conference opponents in UMass and Wisconsin, respectively, for early-season tests.

Oct 19, 2023 by Tim Rappleye

October is the month in college hockey where the blueprints for the national tournament are drawn up. Most American sports fans are immersed in pro and college football as well as the MLB post-season, but the inter-conference play of college hockey is dictating the at-large possibilities of 60 NCAA hopefuls. With the season less than two weeks old, a pair of CCHA powerhouses will test their mettle this weekend, non-conference games that will have major consequences come the final week of March.

UMass vs #19 Minnesota State 

In a matchup between Frozen Four frequenters, UMass (2019, 2021 FF’s) comes to Mankato (2021, 2022 FF’s) for the first time. In their previous meeting two seasons ago, Minnesota State spoiled the banner-raising party for the the national champion Minutemen. Although both rosters have been overhauled, the two programs enjoyed impressive wins over Top 10 squads last weekend, as UMass upset then #6 Michigan and the Mavericks swept then #10 St. Cloud State.

This is the perfect after party for Minnesota State, a litmus test for first year coach Luke Strand’s new-look Mavericks. There was an air of familiarity in Mankato last weekend, as Frozen Four veterans Lucas Sowder (scored opener Friday night) and Sam Morton (tallied a pair in Saturday’s win) both inked up the scoresheet versus St. Cloud. Despite only observing a small sample of Morton’s impact on his team, count Strand as bullish on his captain, a player sidelined in all but eight games due to injury last season.

“For him to have success off the hop, one, it’s great for our team, and, two, it’s fitting for the amount of work he put in to return,” said Strand. “Him feeling good about his game, and us getting on track, they go hand in hand.”

For the second straight weekend, Strand’s Mavericks are playing a major team from a major conference. Even though the current schedule is residue from his predecessor Mike Hastings, Strand is all about best playing best.

“I want to play the Big 10’s, I want to play the NCHC’s, play Hockey [East]. 

Iron sharpens iron.”

Prediction: In a series that will resemble post-season hockey, these two brand-name programs will fight to a draw. Split for the Mavs and Minutemen. 

Wisconsin vs #19 Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan slapped the back of every player exiting the ice after Saturday’s tie with Alaska, and with good reason. He has repeatedly used the word “fragile” about his club’s psyche, and he needs a strong performance this weekend against Wisconsin if his Huskies are going to gain ground in the national Pairwise rankings. Two years ago Tech swept the Badgers in Madison, wins that helped the Huskies gain a precious at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. Shawhan needs these games just as badly this season after going winless vs Alaska last weekend.

Although it’s strange to see Mike Hastings in Wisconsin Red, he is the same coach with the same systems that he employed in Mankato. In last Friday’s overtime win vs Bemidji, Hastings’ soldiers fired 60 bullets on goal, including a whopping 100 shot attempts. That devastating puck possession has been Hastings’ signature during his 11 years in Mankato, the style Shawhan has tried to emulate during his tenure at Tech. 

Prediction: Edge to the hometown Huskies, at least a win and a tie. Despite Hastings raiding the Mavericks’ roster before leaving town, Michigan Tech has the talent edge, and is in desperation mode with Pairwise points at a premium.

#9 Western Michigan vs Bowling Green

This is a game for viewers who slow down to examine car wrecks on highways. Bowling Green would have had all they could handle with the Broncos of Kalamazoo under normal circumstances. But since the ongoing investigation into allegations of hazing by a former player has ravaged the BG roster and sidelined head coach Ty Eigner, the Falcons are practically featherless.

EDITOR'S NOTE (Oct. 20): Bowling Green announced Thursday that head coach Ty Eigner has been reinstated upon the completion of the investigation. It was determined the coach had no direct or indirect knowledge of an unauthorized team party from which the allegations stemmed. Here is BGSU's full statement on the matter.

Prediction: A comfortable sweep for Western, as BGSU limps along in a nightmarish season written by the likes of Stephen King.