2023 Minnesota State vs Lake Superior State - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Players Heating Up, Rivalries Raging

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Players Heating Up, Rivalries Raging

As the CCHA hockey season nears its halfway point, many players are starting to find their strides, and they’re bringing their teams along for the ride.

Nov 29, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Players Heating Up, Rivalries Raging

As the 2023-2024 CCHA hockey season nears its halfway point, many players are starting to find their strides, and they’re bringing their teams along for the ride.

Minnesota State Vs. Lake State

Two years ago, Minnesota State goalie Keenan Rancier got his first taste of Division I hockey up at Lake State, and though he took the 1-0 loss, his gutty performance in that game was what gave him the leg up on Alex Tracy last year.

Rancier won the starting job and carried the Mavericks a pair of memorable wins – the MacNaughton Cup and the Mason Cup. 

Now, Rancier is rebuilding his career after offseason surgery, and he earned himself another start with his sparkling performance in a losing cause last week against Michigan Tech (59 minutes of shutout hockey). 

His return to the Soo clearly is a reason to watch the CCHA this weekend. Rancier’s freshman teammate, Evan Murr, is another. 

Since scoring the overtime winner at Ferris State three weeks ago, Murr has been one of the league’s most exciting defensemen, taking over games for long stretches with his skating and playmaking. 

When the Mavericks are on the power play, leave your streaming devices alone and focus on No. 10 in purple.

One weekend’s absence from the scoresheet had seen Lake State forward Jared Westcott dropped from first to sixth in the national scoring race. Westcott now is back in Taffy Abel Arena, where he has done most of his damage. Look for his offensive touch to return this weekend.

Prediction: A split in the Soo. The Lakers will seize on the Mavericks inability to finish games and ring their victory bell once again.  

Bowling Green Vs. Michigan Tech

Beware CCHA, the sleeping dogs from Houghton have awoken. 

The league’s reigning player of the year – goaltender Blake Pietila – returned to form in Michigan Tech’s sweep of Minnesota State. 

Freshman Isaac Gordon and senior Ryland Mosley are in a riveting race for the team’s scoring lead, and it appears a star has been born in transfer Mathew Campbell, a defenseman the Huskies have been coveting for years. 

“We recruited Matt Campbell from Quinnipiac the year before, and when he came available, we jumped on him,” said Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan. 

Campbell set up the winning goals in both victories in Mankato and was named the CCHA’s Defenseman of the Week.

Though Bowling Green coach Ty Eigner refuses to admit it publicly, his Falcons are better off without former scoring star Austen Swankler. 

They now are a balanced team that found a new offensive spark last weekend in CCHA Rookie of the Week Brody Waters. His two goals helped the Falcons break a five-game home losing streak to Northern Michigan. 

Their aptly named bruiser, Seth Fyten, also chipped in a pair. 

Bowling Green’s resurgence since its sensational scandal is a national story in its own right. But they are playing the wrong team, at the wrong time, in the wrong building.

Prediction: Sweep for the surging Huskies.

St. Thomas Vs. Ferris State

Though the standings have St. Thomas in first place in the CCHA, the Tommies trail Michigan Tech in league winning percentage, and they will fall further behind this weekend. 

Rico Blasi’s winning formula requires that his Tommies engage in hand-to-hand combat for 60 minutes, winning those battles of will for every 50-50 puck to grind out victories. 

UST will face a willing partner in Ferris State this weekend, in a building that induces such battles every time the puck slides into the shallow corners of 47-year-old Ewigelben Arena. 

The last time we saw Ferris State, the Bulldogs were giving Michigan Tech all it could handle, splitting with their in-state rival up in Houghton, and they have had two weeks to restore themselves for this weekend’s battles. 

The player to watch in Big Rapids is the league’s ultimate power forward, Antonio Venuto, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound giant, usually found planted atop the enemy crease. His nine goals ranks third in the CCHA, including three in his last two games. 

“He’s playing the best hockey he’s played [in his career],” said Bulldogs boss Bob Daniels. “For Antonio, it hasn’t come easy. He’s had to work and earn all his ice time. Nine goals is an amazing number.”

How the Tommies deal with Ferris State’s “Man-ster” should determine the outcome of this bruising battle in Big Rapids.

Prediction: Split at Ferris. A 120-minute rock fight.