2024 Michigan Tech vs Bowling Green - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: The Stretch Drive

CCHA Reasons To Watch: The Stretch Drive

Someone has to win this sprint for MacNaughton, and CCHA fans will savor the drama these final two weekends. Welcome to the homestretch.

Feb 22, 2024 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: The Stretch Drive

True, only one CCHA team has a record over .500 (Minnesota State), but a good pennant race is wildly entertaining, regardless of winning percentage. 

Ask fans of the NHL’s old Norris Division, when a survivor from the “Black and Blue” division reached the Stanley Cup semifinals every year. Someone has to win this sprint for MacNaughton, and CCHA fans will savor the drama these final two weekends.

Michigan Tech Vs. Bowling Green

If this game were scheduled in late December, Tech would be the clear favorite. 

Coming off the holiday break, the Huskies were CCHA front-runners, while Bowling Green was a hot mess near the bottom of the standings. 

Now, the roles nearly are reversed, as Ty Eigner’s Falcons are the hottest team in the circuit, and Michigan Tech is battered and bruised in fifth place. 

This series had been on every Slater maniac’s calendar once it was learned that public enemy Austen Swankler had transferred to Michigan Tech. But Swankler now is just another injured Husky, joining Kyle Kukkonen, Max Koskipirtti and other MTU skaters on the “unavailable” list. 

From Bowling Green’s perspective, they are playing Tech at perfect time.

The lynchpin to the Falcons’ scintillating run is their stud in goal: 6-foot-5 freshman Cole Moore. 

In addition, their power play is overheating with a .500 average the last four games, and they are getting clutch production from underclassmen Brett Pfoh, Quinn Emerson and Ben Doran. 

They, too, have lost impact players to the injury bug, including leading scorer Ryan O’Hara, but the Falcons have collected 11 out of 12 league points without him. 

Bowling Green has become a team of destiny, regardless of its failing grade outside the conference.

Footnote: Eigner’s former BG coach Jerry York will be at Slater Arena on Saturday, as the 40th anniversary of BGSU’s 1984 national championship is being celebrated. 

It bears watching to see if all the pomp and circumstance will be a distraction to the current Falcons.

Prediction: For the third weekend in a row, the Falcons claw out a minimum of five points.

Lake Superior Vs. Minnesota State

Minnesota State should be thanking Bowling Green for slowing the St. Thomas roll during the Mavericks bye weekend. 

MSU woke up Sunday morning in control of its own destiny, with an ice-cold Lake State squad coming to Mankato. 

The bye has turned out to be a blessing for Minnesota State.

All-league candidates Sam Morton and Lucas Sowder – the Batman and Robin of the Mavericks – appeared worn out from answering the Bat Signal too frequently this new year. 

Seemingly every recent game was a tight contest, as coach Luke Strand had his dynamic duo killing every penalty, manning every power play and, in some cases, double-shifting to avoid truculent checkers. Pushing 30 minutes a game is no way to marshal your energy for the stretch drive. 

This pair of game-changers has had two weeks to regain their powers, and that is not good news for Lake State. The Lakers have lost five of their least six league games, and their home-ice berth in the CCHA standings now is a mirage.  

One detail oddsmakers shouldn’t overlook is the play of freshman goalie Easton Hesse. 

The rookie has put up numbers that look like misprints: .974 save percentage and a 0.83 goals-against average in his five-game career. 

Unless veteran Ethan Langenegger steals a win Friday night, expect Laker coach Damon Whitten to give his rookie goalie the reins at least once this weekend.

Should Hesse get his Lakers into overtime with Minnesota State, don’t expect him to complete the upset. The Mavericks have defenseman Evan Murr feeding pucks to Sowder and Morton, a recipe for a short extra session.

Prediction: A minimum of five points for Minnesota State. That may not be enough to get them back into first place.

Bemidji Vs. St. Thomas

Tommies coach Rico Blasi’s tone was that of an undertaker in Monday’s press conference. 

He spent his opening remarks fielding questions about fallen star Cooper Gay, a power forward who was playing the best hockey in the league. 

The loss of Gay had direct consequences in the Tommies fall from first place, the toughest of the myriad injuries Blasi has had to manage this season. 

UST hosts a Bemidji team that is brimming with talent, confidence and fraternity. 

Viewers should tune into the second period of their games this weekend, as Bemidji turns the screws on St. Thomas defenders, bolstered by easy line changes in the attacking zone. 

Coach Serratore employs his “ground game,” a goal line forecheck that has been stifling of late, grinding down exhausted defenders into critical errors.

Bowling Green may have grabbed most of the league’s attention with its amazing leap into contention, but Serratore’s Beavers methodically have pulled themselves into first place with their consistent play, bolstered by supreme talent.

Prediction: Bemidji remains in first place with at least four road points against the decimated Tommies.