2023 St. Thomas (MN) vs Minnesota State - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Semester Winding Down, Excitement Amping Up

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Semester Winding Down, Excitement Amping Up

It’s the last great CCHA bash before exams – eight teams, four series – all with rich storylines and half the games with first-place implications.

Dec 7, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Semester Winding Down, Excitement Amping Up

It’s the last great bash before exams – eight teams, four series – all with rich storylines and half the games with first-place implications. 

Hockey fans, put on an XL bib, and tuck in. 

NOTE: The CCHA standings are so dense and convoluted by games in hand and overtime results that you will see standings based on percentage of points won per contest.

“States’ Rights” – No. 2 St. Thomas (.600) Vs. No. 3 Minnesota State (.583)

You’re not going to contend for titles if you can’t win your region. And there’s no better hockey region than the state of Minnesota. 

The brash newcomer (UST) takes on the reigning champ (MSU) in a marquee crossroad matchup. 

Both teams have two elite goalies, including the nation’s statistical king in Jake Sibell of the Tommies. Saturday’s projected goalie matchup of Sibell the Mavs’ Keenan Rancier conjures up memories of classic pitching duels, such as Clemens vs. Martinez. 

Rancier better hope his purple people stay out of the box, because the Tommies are clicking at 50% in their last 10 power-play attempts. They are led by a trio of forwards – Ryan O’Neill, Mack Byers and Lucas Wahlin – who just came off a 13-point night.

Minnesota State’s veteran scorers Sam Morton and Lucas Sowder will push the pulse for the 5,000 home fans in Mankato, but scouts in the upper reaches will be watching the defensive tandem of Evan Murr (freshman) and Mason Wheeler (sophomore). These Mavs both are legit pro prospects. 

Prediction: At least one of these games goes to overtime, as the Tommies wobble the champs with at least four hard-earned points. The UST power play rules the weekend.

“Yooper Feud” – No. 1 Michigan Tech (.667) Vs. No. 5 Northern Michigan (.500)

If a scheduling fluke left fans with only one series to watch this weekend, Tech against Northern, home and away, would be more than fulfilling. 

It’s the CCHA’s answer to BU/BC or Quinnipiac Yale, neighbors who just don’t like each other. 

Each school has fans who love attending road victories in the enemy’s barn. Saturday’s game at Northern will have hundreds of Michigan Tech supporters wearing black and gold. 

For fans who change sources in the middle of a stream, these games from the heart of the Upper Peninsula will look different – longer touches, more offense, less drag and grind. 

The primary reason is Northern Michigan captain Andre Ghantous, the nation’s leading active scorer. He has the longest panic point with the puck, creating time and space with his superior hockey sense. 

If these games get to overtime, watch the magic Ghantous makes with Muscovite Artem Shlaine and flashy defenseman Rob Zinger. It’s one of the best shows in college hockey.

Under the forceful will of coach Joe Shawhan, Michigan Tech is reaching its projected potential as the premier team in the CCHA. 

Senior Ryland Mosley (8-7-15) and freshman Isaac Gordon (9-6-15) are in a terrific scoring race in which they pad each other’s stats with tasty feeds. 

But this series will be determined by the indomitable Pietila twins, scoring from Logan and goaltending from Blake. They have been the heartbeat of Michigan Tech going on five years, and they shine brightest in big games.

Prediction: Surging Tech claims a minimum of five points. “It’s not hockey, it’s ‘Goalie.’”

“The Big Payback” – No. 8 Ferris State (.333) Vs. No. 7 Bowling Green (.375)

The last time we saw these teams play at Slater Arena, the men from Ferris were deliriously celebrating their second overtime victory in the CCHA quarterfinals, king slayers who swept a Falcon team that had eyes on the Mason Cup. 

Now comes payback.

Bowling Green has overcome an existential threat to emerge as the CCHA’s most dangerous floater, capable of knocking off anyone in their path. Ask Michigan Tech, which barely escaped a split with the brown and orange in their own building last week. 

Everyone who witnessed that series saw a BGSU team punching well over its weight as the current No. 7 seed. 

The final piece of their puzzle is the goaltending. 

Rookie Cole Moore has done an admirable job stepping in for injured Christian Stoever, but after a superb stretch, goals are slipping past the 6-foot-6 giant. 

The outcome of this series might be projected during the introductions Friday night. 

In terms of players to watch, Falcon defenseman Ben Wozney might be the best player on the ice this weekend, with his exciting dashes into the attacking zone. 

The 800-pound elephant in the room is Ferris State strongman Antonio Venuto, who in actuality is 215 pounds. If he is not bashing opponents senseless, he is burying pucks in the back of the net. He leads the Bulldogs with 11 tallies. 

Jason Brancheau, the man who crushed BGSU dreams with his overtime dagger last March, still lurks on the Ferris power play, second on the Dogs with five goals.

Prediction: Stoever is doubtful to take his rightful place in the BGSU net, so the Falcons revenge will be tempered by a split against the feisty Bulldogs. 

“Contender or Pretender?” – No. 6 Lake State (.400) Vs. No. 4 Bemidji State (.542)

Last Friday, the Lakers dominated the eye test against powerhouse Minnesota State, but ended up with but a single point, the only point claimed over the weekend, as they slid down the CCHA standings. 

Now, the Lakers take the long ride west to the hostile banks of Lake Bemidji, where Tom Serratore’s eager Beavers await. 

LSSU’s supreme scorer, Jared Westcott, is slumping. Goalie Ethan Langenegger is overworked, and his statistics have been dropping from elite to pedestrian. One bright spot is sharpshooter Harry Roy, who is asserting his will in every corner of the rink. 

Bemidji has an unimpressive overall record at 5-9 but has been playing the best teams in the country in nonconference play. 

After a restful bye week, the Bemidji stars should shine this weekend, especially the big three of (F) Lleyton Roed, (D) Kyle Looft and (D) Eric Pohlkamp. If they get all-star Mattias Sholl back between the pipes, Bemidji will be a bear.

Prediction: A sweep for Bemidji, as the Beavers fortify their home ice perch in the CCHA standings.