2024 Ferris State vs Bemidji State - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Postseason Approaching, Attention On State Of Hockey

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Postseason Approaching, Attention On State Of Hockey

With three weekends remaining in the fast and furious sprint to the MacNaughton Cup, the final CCHA standings remain nearly impossible to decipher.

Feb 15, 2024 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Postseason Approaching, Attention On State Of Hockey

With three weekends remaining in the fast and furious (apologies to Universal Studios) sprint to the MacNaughton Cup, the final CCHA standings remain nearly impossible to decipher, a swirl of countless permutations. 

Only two series affect the standings this weekend, but both have enormous implications. 

For CCHA fans, all eyes turn to the State of Hockey, beginning Thursday.

Ferris State Vs. Bemidji

Bob Daniels’ Ferris Bulldogs officially are spoilers, and the only club not in contention for home ice. 

They were in a similar spot last year and shattered the legit dreams of Bowling Green in the 2023 quarterfinals. 

Now, they take the longest bus ride of the season (13.5 hours) to the shores of Lake Bemidji, where they will face a team on the cusp of greatness.

Just check the CCHA weekly awards – three of the four honorees are covered in spruce green. 

The only award the Beavers did not win was goaltender, and you can make a strong case that Bemidji’s Mattias Sholl deserved that honor, as well, earning both a regulation- and shootout victory at Northern Michigan last weekend.

“He’s seeing the puck really good right now,” beamed Bemidji bench boss Tom Serratore. 

His Beavers are three points behind leader Minnesota State, playing their two games in hand this weekend, cruising in control of their destiny. 

Bemidji’s latest star is Adam Flammang, a heavy-handed wing whose love of the corners is surpassed only by his ability to hammer the puck.

Assistant coach Travis Winter keeps recruiting the best Minnesota-born players not playing for the Gophers, such as defenseman Eric Pohlkamp, winger Lleyton Roed and gutty captain Kyle Looft. There is a wagon up in northern Minnesota, loaded with supreme talent from the State of Hockey.

Prediction: The Beavers leapfrog Minnesota State and St. Thomas into first place with a home sweep. 

Bemidji just so happens to face those exact teams in subsequent weeks to wrap up the regular season, creating the possibility of the dreaded “trap game” this weekend against Ferris State. But the lure of gaining first place should neutralize that trap.

Bowling Green Vs. St. Thomas 

Bowling Green represents an irresistible force coming into St. Paul, with five players and two coaches by plane, and the rest overnighting by bus. 

The Falcons will engage in a crossroads clash with second-place St. Thomas, a team with the best winning percentage in conference games. The Tommies are coming off a frustrating sweep at the hands of Augustana, while Bowling Green has won four straight. Crossroads, indeed.

UST coach Rico Blasi loves his team, especially his positioning in the standings, but his glass is half-empty, or more to the point, his roster is seriously depleted. 

Since December, Blasi has lost five regulars to injury, including impact players Jake Braccini and Noah Prokop. 

Blasi has been forced to cobble together a lineup each weekend, placing two defensemen up front on the checking line in recent weeks. 

In Monday’s press conference, Blasi engaged in some gallows humor, talking about putting fans into uniform at the St. Thomas practice. His mission is to convince his core group to continue grinding out each and every shift, and then let the chips fall.

“In February, you’re not looking for a magic pill, you gotta go out and play an honest game,” Blasi said. “Be on the right side of the puck, win your battles and be disciplined.” 

He hopes there is enough in the tank to get his Tommies back into first place by Saturday night.

In a league defined by parity, every CCHA club is desperate to locate a winning edge. One team appears to have found one, albeit, in the unlikeliest places. 

Bowling Green equipment manager Scott “Scooter” Jess is a rumpled, middle-aged man who looks like he ran away to the circus as a child, and in many ways he did. 

He has been sharpening skates and handing out jocks for over two decades, living in an orange and brown warmup jacket as he tends to Falcon hockey and baseball. 

And, in the midst of Bowling Green hockey’s season of tumult, Jess has become the focal point for this band of brothers who have survived accusations, suspensions and police inquiries before willing themselves back into contention.

Coach Ty Eigner has made a habit of recording and uploading Scooter’s infamous “Diamond Cutter” leaps from a cooler after weekend sweeps. 

The yelps of appreciation from three unlikely sweeps have become the rallying cry in what is beginning look like a storybook season, something unfathomable in November, when BG hockey scraped rock bottom in the national Pairwise with a 2-8 record. 

That seems like a lifetime ago in the light of this current winning streak and a home-ice perch in the CCHA standings.

The residue from their winning streak is hard-earned confidence, belief in one another and collective affection for the short man with the gigantic heart.

They absolutely love him,” Eigner said. 

Saturday’s victory represented a milestone for Scooter, one Eigner dutifully posted.

Now, Cinderella Bowling Green travels to the ball in St. Paul, taking on St. Thomas in a series that will define the Falcons as either contenders or pretenders. 

They have plenty of assets: a solid two-goalie rotation in Christian Stoever (Friday) and Cole Moore (Saturday), a power play that seems to generate chances on every opportunity (three scores in their last six opportunities) and their captain, Ethan Scardina, seems to possess the leadership qualities of Mark Messier. 

The final ingredient is an intangible – a sandy-haired fellow with a towel around his neck, arming his brothers with sharp skates and hot sticks. Will that be enough?

Prediction: A split in hockey’s capital of St. Paul – one that will leave both clubs neck and neck, as the season careens toward a photo finish.