2023 Lake Superior State vs Northern Michigan - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: All Eight Teams Set For Conference Play This Week

CCHA Reasons To Watch: All Eight Teams Set For Conference Play This Week

For the first time this season, all eight CCHA teams will compete within the conference – four series that will establish the league’s balance of power.

Nov 9, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch:  All Eight Teams Set For Conference Play This Week

For the first time this season, all eight CCHA teams will be competing within the conference this weekend – four series that will establish the league’s balance of power. 

Three schools are coming off sweeps, three are treading water and two seek a reversal of fortune. 

How they mix and match is why we watch. 

Lake State Vs. Northern Michigan

If you believed the preseason polls, this battle between Upper Peninsula neighbors should see Northern Michigan as the heavy favorite against a Lake State squad picked for last place. 

Instead, it is the opposite. 

The Lakers appear to be a team of destiny, riding a four-game winning streak, while the talent-laden Wildcats are free-falling with a 1-6-1 record.

There was one highlight from last weekend’s Laker sweep of Bemidji that should cost the Northern coaches some sleep this week as they prepare: Timo Bakos’ short-handed goal off a terrific feed from Harry Roy. Not only did it prove to be the game-winning goal, it broke the junior’s goal slump. 

An offense that has jumped off to 3-0 leads in their last two games now has a veteran marksman (13 career goals) locked and loaded. 

Another source of Laker offensive will come from the veteran trio of Jared Wescott, Connor Milburn and Dawson Tritt. Their size and skating will jump off the screen, and they should score, having notched a dozen goals between them already this year.

Seasoned observers of Northern Michigan know the Wildcats have too much talent to hang around the CCHA cellar, but their slumps can be lengthy. At some point, though, Andre Ghantous, Artem Shlaine and Josh Zinger will go on a rampage, but it may not be until after Christmas.

Prediction: A road sweep for Lake State behind some stellar goaltending from Ethan Langenegger.

Minnesota State Vs. Ferris State

On paper, Ferris State might appear to be favored this weekend, having more wins and goals than the Mavericks, but that’s misleading. 

No one in the CCHA has played better nonconference competition than Minnesota State. The Mavs were last seen celebrating a shoot-out victory (tie) up at No. 4 North Dakota, and they’ve had two weeks to shore up their special teams. Look for Sam Morton and Adam Eisele to beef up their scoring totals against Ferris. 

Bob Daniels’ Bulldogs have been a plucky bunch this year, grinding out splits every weekend. 

Goaltenders Noah Giesbrecht and Logan Stein have taken turns winning games, and massive winger Antonio Venuto (six goals in eight games) has emerged as a scoring star for Ferris. A newcomer to watch is wingman Jack Mesic, whose energy and courage around the blue paint has earned him four points and a slew of bruises.

Prediction: Yet another split at home for Ferris courtesy of Giesbrecht. 

The purple-clad Mavericks may not be the national power they’ve been in recent years, but they’re the best 5-on-5 squad in the CCHA. 

This is a great weekend to see if Minnesota State can jump-start its power play. If the Mavericks can learn to generate offense while a man up, expect them to contend for the MacNaughton Cup once again.

Michigan Tech Vs. Bemidji

“It’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.” – Anonymous  

This sports adage is in full force this weekend, as visiting Michigan Tech comes into Bemidji with a renewed offensive swagger (10 goals), and Bemidji limps home having been swept by Lake State. 

Tom Serratore’s Beavers stumbled into fatal 3-0 deficits in the first period of both games last weekend, a trend he must reverse. 

The Bemidji roster boasts the league’s best defenseman (Kyle Looft), the most dangerous sniper (Lleyton Roed) and the shiniest rookie (Eric Pohlkamp). 

Serratore’s biggest headache is that his No. 1 goalie, Mattias Sholl, is on the shelf with a lower-body injury. Sholl’s return is critical, if the Beavers are to get untracked.

After a horrendous offensive slump to start the year, Michigan Tech is singing a happy tune, as the forwards reach for the stick rack. 

Consecutive hat tricks by Issac Gordon and Ryland Mosley have relieved the pressure on the entire squad. 

In addition to Pohlkamp, there will be another rookie-of-the-year candidate on the ice this weekend. Max Koskipirtti (seven points in nine games played) is becoming a household name in Finn-friendly Houghton. 

One item that is troubling Husky nation is that fifth-year goaltender Blake Pietila has fallen to the ranks of mere mortals this season. His pedestrian performances have opened the door for sophomore Max Vayrynen, who has given up nearly one fewer goal per game than the reigning CCHA player of the year.

Prediction: Split. Neither team is what they were last weekend. Watch for decorated Tech sophomore Kyle Kukkonen to finally break his scoring slump.

St. Thomas Vs. Bowling Green

Tommies coach Rico Blasi had his club’s full attention last week, and it responded with an impressive sweep over slumping Northern Michigan. 

The question is, can that momentum carry forward on the road at Bowling Green?

The Falcons showed life last weekend, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in both games in their nonconference split with Mercyhurst. 

For a club grateful to have a coach and even a season this year, its confidence is growing in baby steps. 

Newcomers, such as forward Owen Ozar and goaltender Cole Moore, are finding opportunity and delivering, bringing energy into a once-dormant room. Fan-mania is returning to the Madhouse on Mercer.

Prediction: Tommies sweep. Sports can be cruel, and Blasi’s Tommies play a heartless brand of hockey.