2024 Ferris State vs Augustana (SD) - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Augustana's New Arena Set To Open

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Augustana's New Arena Set To Open

A skater wearing a black hat will unsettle the Soo; the “Year of the Defensemen” is on display; and a gleaming structure takes center stage in South Dakota.

Jan 25, 2024 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Augustana's New Arena Set To Open

This week in the CCHA: a skater wearing a black hat will unsettle the Soo; the “Year of the Defensemen” is on display in Mankato; and a gleaming structure takes center stage in South Dakota.

Hockey Nights On Campus In Sioux Falls

There are sounds emanating from the campus of Augustana University this week, sounds that are unique, yet totally familiar. 

Sticks are slapping ice, hard rubber careens off dashers and pipes. 

Prior to this week, the sounds of college hockey emanated exclusively from the cavernous Denny Sanford Center on the far side of Sioux Falls, but they now are being heard on the campus of Augustana, in a much more intimate setting. 

With justifiable fanfare, sparkling Midco Arena opens this week, and on Friday, 3,000 college hockey fans will witness the Vikings inaugural hockey night on campus, a huge step forward for a school and its parent league. 

CCHA commissioner Don Lucia will be a member of the packed house.

“Midco Arena demonstrates the commitment Augustana has made to their hockey program and the CCHA,” Lucia said. “I am looking forward to touring and attending this weekend.”

The Vikings are hosting Ferris State, a team clearly more dangerous than its last-place status. Just ask Lake State, a club swept by the Bulldogs last weekend. 

Ferris has a budding star in sophomore defenseman Travis Shoudy and a china-shop bull in power forward Antonio Venuto. These Bulldogs are eager to foul the Sioux Falls puck party.

But Augustana is not your typical Division I newcomer – it has a better Pairwise ranking than all but two CCHA teams and is coming off a split against No. 16 Arizona State. 

The Vikings roster is stocked with veteran talent plucked from the transfer portal. 

They get their offense from a variety of sources, most notably Luke Mobley, a 6-foot-3 power forward (eight goals) and his primary setup man, Ryan Naumovski. The pass-first playmaker is closing in on 100-career points after four productive seasons at Niagara.

But the players will occupy only supporting roles in this weekend’s Sioux Falls drama. The star is the theater – Midco Arena, a sparkling jewel in the CCHA’s growing collection.

Northern Michigan Vs. Minnesota State

This series is the rematch of last year’s thrilling Mason Cup title game, the overtime clash that ripped out the heart of Wildcats coach Grant Potulny

The Wildcats have most of their roster intact from last year’s championship game. Minnesota State, on the other hand, has a new coach in Luke Strand, and he orchestrates an overhauled Maverick roster. 

But MSU remains a threat to clutch its seventh straight MacNaughton Cup, thanks to a time-tested formula in Mankato: puck dominance and clutch scoring. 

The Mavericks hottest hands also are their oldest – sixth-year center Sam Morton (league-leading 18 goals) and his trusty wingman, Lucas Sowder (21 points in 21 games).  

There is much to watch in Mankato this weekend, including Northern Michigan star Andre Ghantous seeking to crack the career milestone of 100 assists. 

But scouts and fans alike should dwell on the two best puck-moving defensemen in the circuit: NMU’s Josh Zinger and Minnesota State’s Evan Murr. They quarterback the two offenses and are integral to the success of their respective clubs. They are headliners in a CCHA season that will be known as “The Year of the Defensemen.”

Prediction: Minnesota State is a legit contender, while the Wildcats are not. The hometown Mavericks will get the lion’s share of points. Look for at least one contest to reach overtime, a nightmarish flashback for the men in green. 

Michigan Tech Vs. Lake State

Welcome to “CCHA Yooper Survivor,” show, playing in prime time in the American Soo. 

One hundred miles north above the 45th parallel, two familiar rivals will slug it out for home-ice positioning in the CCHA. 

Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan will be drawing up plays merely steps away from the locker room of the Soo Indians, the junior squad where he cut his coaching teeth. 

This season, Shawhan has been both cursed and blessed with elite talent – cursed because his Huskies have found creative ways to underachieve throughout the year. 

The notorious Austen Swankler – a truculent scorer who threatens defenders and goalies with his mad dashes through the attacking zone – wears the proverbial black hat in the CCHA. 

The gunslinger with the quick draw is ceded plenty of space in league games. Defenders have learned to be wary of his high sticks and flailing elbows. Swankler also is an elite scorer waiting to bust out, and this is as good a weekend as any for his first goal of the season.

Damon Whitten’s Lakers have found a way to tread water in the CCHA standings, despite their propensity to cough up the game’s first goal. If that trend continues, Tech will make them pay. 

As you watch the LSSU men in blue this weekend, you will notice forward lines who are larger than the defensemen they are forechecking. Connor Milburn (6-foot-4) Dawson Tritt (6-foot-2) and Jared Westcott (6-foot-1) are a trio who can wreak havoc over a 60-minute game.

Add Tech’s Matthew Campbell to the galaxy of CCHA elite defensemen. Watching him elude defenders on breakouts can be a source of wonder.

Prediction: A very tough call. The goaltending duel between veterans Ethan Langenegger (LSSU) and Blake Pietiala (MTU) is a push. Look for a split in which both teams lament lost opportunities to sweep.