2023 Michigan Tech vs Minnesota State - Men's

CCHA RinkRap: A Superstar Returns To Form In Mankato

CCHA RinkRap: A Superstar Returns To Form In Mankato

This week, a superstar returned to form in Mankato. It was the preseason CCHA Player of the Year Blake Pietila - in the season’s biggest series.

Nov 28, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA RinkRap: A Superstar Returns To Form In Mankato

This week in CCHA RinkRap, a superstar returns to form in Mankato.

Minutes after Michigan’s Tech’s historic sweep of Minnesota State in Mankato, hockey and music pals Joe Shawhan (coach) and Dirk Hembroff (broadcaster) were riffing over which Huskies to credit for victory.

“Matthew Campbell and Tyrone Bronte,” Hembroff said. 

“(Max) Koskipirtti and, and . . . Kaspar (Vaharautio). Kaspar did an incredible job,” Shawhan said. “And Chase (Pietila). And Campbell means so much to our team.”

Holy jumping, what a snub by the brain trust of Husky Hockey Nation. To borrow and butcher a phrase by politico James Carville, “It’s the goaltending, goofy!”

In the season’s biggest series, the Superman who had resembled Clark Kent – preseason CCHA Player of the Year Blake Pietila – finally returned to form.

In a building he was last seen exiting in agonizing defeat, the 2023 Richter Award finalist outdueled both Keenan Rancier and Alex Tracy in a pair of scintillating 3-2 victories. 

For the past three years, victorious weekends were a way of life for Pietila, the nation’s career leader in wins (63) and shutouts (19). But this season of projected dominance had been anything but, as evidenced by a save percentage that had slipped below the “Mendoza Line” of .900.

Everything changed this weekend, though.

In the house of 2022 Hobey Baker Award winner Dryden McKay, Pietila willed his team to two victories, performances that had insiders comparing him to the Mavericks’ all-time great. 

Minnesota State broadcaster Darren Blue, a former Maverick coach who has seen both Pietila and Dryden McKay in their prime, said there was little to choose between the two. 

“They are in the same category,” Blue said Saturday night. 

High praise indeed. 

Thanks to Pietila’s virtuoso performances, Tech bussed home from Mankato leading the CCHA in winning percentage (.667), its path to the national tournament funneled through league dominance, not an at-large berth as had been the case the previous two seasons.

Shawhan enjoys this team, despite its October struggles, more than last year’s 24-win club. 

“I really like this group,” Shawhan said. “Theyre better than they know they are right now, but if we keep growing, were putting something together here thats going to be good this year.” 

Pietila never talks about personal achievements, but he realizes how important it is to snatch a pair of wins at Minnesota State.

“Getting the sweep really means a lot,” Pietila said. “Hopefully, we can ride this momentum until break.”

A major improvement over last year is the Huskies’ power play. 

Bottom in the league at 13% last season, Tech now is converting at 23.5%, including power-play goals in seven of the last eight games. 

In a league filled with uncertainty, Michigan Tech has emerged as the team to beat.

Loose Biscuits

Beni Halasz Makes Memorable Return

After being buried on the bench for two weeks, Northern Michigan goalie Beni Halasz returned to the crease Saturday night at Bowling Green. 

He responded with his fourth career shutout, and may have just won his old job back. 

“Beni played his best game of the season,” Cats coach Grant Potulny said. “He made timely saves and played with composure.” 

Countryman Kristof Papp also stood out for the Wildcats Saturday, winning 16-of-24 faceoffs, collecting an assist and ending up plus one for the night. Papp and Halasz are the only Hungarians in Division I hockey.

Is There An Easy Fix For Minnesota State?

In a season already filled with ups and downs, Minnesota State coach Luke Strand finds his team in a rut. 

Just over a week ago, Minnesota State was on the verge of a four-game CCHA winning streak, then his Mavericks collapsed against Bemidji and have lost three in a row. 

In Strand’s opinion, the solution is not complicated. 

“We need to do simple best,” he said.

Minnesota State is tied for fourth place in the CCHA with Northern Michigan with a 50% winning percentage.

The One That Got Away

The Bemidji State Beavers were in hostile territory last weekend, getting swept by No. 1 North Dakota, with the first loss coming in overtime. 

Video revealed that the Fighting Hawks entered the zone offside on the winning goal Friday, a play that was not reviewed.

Double-Threat For Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech has a scintillating internal race for the team’s goal-scoring lead. 

Ryland Mosley broke a tie with freshman Isaac Gordon with his seventh goal to open Friday’s game, which commenced a see-saw sequence that saw Gordon tie it with his seventh, before Mosley took the lead with the overtime winner Friday. 

Gordon tied the race once again with his eighth to open scoring Saturday. 

Entering Saturday’s game, Mosley was the CCHA’s hottest point producer with six goals and nine points in a five-game stretch.

The Huskies consummate grinder, Jack Works, led all players Saturday in Mankato with six shots on goal, scoring his fourth goal of year in the process.

Final Notes

- Promising freshman Tanner Latsch of Northern Michigan, once the hottest goal scorer in the nation, has been victim of the injury bug. He has played only three games since being injured against Ferris State on Oct. 27. 

He found himself back in the stands at Bowling Green Saturday. 

The freshman from Muskegon, Michigan, has seven goals scored in eight career games. 

- St. Thomas, second in CCHA league games with a 62.5% winning percentage, nearly swept the month of November, before falling to Lake State 3-1 on Saturday. Rico Blasi’s Tommies went 5-1 for the month.