2024 Minnesota State vs St. Thomas (MN) - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Playoff Preview, Turf War And More

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Playoff Preview, Turf War And More

This weekend in the CCHA, we’ve got playoff preview in the State of Hockey, a turf war in the U.P. and Ferris looks to escape the cellar.

Feb 1, 2024 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Playoff Preview, Turf War And More

This weekend in the CCHA, we’ve got playoff preview in the State of Hockey, a turf war in the U.P. and Ferris looks to escape the cellar.

St. Thomas Vs. Minnesota State

“I love playoff hockey, the most fun time of the year,” said Sam Morton, eyeing this weekend’s battle for first place between his Mavericks and the Tommies. 

There is no ambiguity between the two front-runners, no need to factor in games in hand or winning percentage – both teams have played 16 games, both have 30 points.

Morton is a veteran of postseason wars, having scored six points in 10 such contests for Minnesota State over the years, including a goal in the 2022 NCAA title game. He then missed the 2023 postseason due to a devastating injury suffered at the hands of St. Thomas, a knee injury from this punishing check by Jake Braccini. 

Feuds, bad blood and short memories are the trademarks of playoff hockey. 

Morton, Minnesota State’s center, is leading the charge and leading the CCHA with a career-high 19 goals entering this weekend’s showdown with St. Thomas.

The winner of this weekend’s home-and-home series – if there is one – will be the clear favorite for the MacNaughton Cup as CCHA regular season champion. 

Tommies coach Rico Blasi knows this well. 

Since the NCAA will not allow St. Thomas into the NCAA Tournament until 2026, his goal is to grab hardware wherever possible. He canceled last week’s exhibition with USA Hockey’s national junior team to preserve bodies for this crucial showdown. He knows that if he wants to hoist some silver into the St. Thomas trophy case, he’s got to take it from Mankato. 

“They’re still the defending champs,” Blasi said. “You’re going to have to go through them.”

It’s only the first week of February, but if you ask Morton, he’s back to playing playoff hockey. 

“We’re already in it, here we go,” he said.

Prediction: Just like their series in December, a split, with both teams winning at home.

Northern Michigan Vs. Michigan Tech

It appears that only one team from the Upper Peninsula will get home ice in the CCHA quarterfinals, and a sweep by either club would be a knockout blow to the loser. 

In the CCHA’s equivalent of a border war, Northern defeated Tech in the 2023 CCHA semifinals, earning the right to represent the U.P. in the league’s championship tilt. 

These clubs have history, animosity and fan bases that travel the 90 miles between them with glee.

Wildcats coach Grant Potulny calls Tech’s All-American Blake Pietila “the best goalie in college hockey,” but Northern has the offense to solve him, starting with fifth-year center Andre Ghantous, the playmaker who leads the circuit with 16 assists. 

Ghantous will distribute to a pair of international marksmen, Artem Shlaine (Russia) and Kristof Papp (Hungary), this weekend. Both have inflicted pain against the Huskies the past two years.

Tech coach Joe Shawhan wishes he had more players like CCHA Rookie of the Year front-runner Issac Gordon, second in the league with 13 goals. 

Shawhan loves the fact that he had to get Gordon off his tractor in Manitoba when recruiting him. There is no substitute for the work ethic of a western Canadian farm boy. 

“I’d take a team full of them,” Shawhan said.

Prediction: Once again, a home-and-home split, as both teams tread water in their race for fourth place.

Bowling Green Vs. Ferris State

Ferris State is the best last-place team in the country. The Bulldogs have 10 wins overall, more than fourth-place Bemidji and two other conference foes. 

Ferris State is coming off a sweep of Augustana, also known as the Stepan Pokorny Show, after the senior sniped five goals over the weekend. 

Antonio Venuto, a 6-foot-3 strongman, shows a deft passing touch, propelling the Bulldogs wingman into third place among the league’s top scorers.

Bowling Green’s struggles are well-documented, and the road has not been kind to the Falcons (three wins, eight losses).

They have two superior talents who are noticeable through video screens large and small – defenseman Ben Wozney and winger Ryan O’Hara. 

Defenseman Dalton Norris can beat a goalie cleanly from the point, so there are bright spots, but not enough to stop BG’s seemingly inevitable slide.

Prediction: Bob Daniels has Ferris playing with a chip on its shoulder. Look for his Dogs to claw their way out of the cellar with at least four points this weekend.