2024 Ferris State vs Bemidji State - Quarterfinal

CCHA RinkRap: Bemidji State Wins MacNaughton Cup, See What's Next

CCHA RinkRap: Bemidji State Wins MacNaughton Cup, See What's Next

Bemidji State last won the MacNaughton Cup in 2017. Seven years later, Tom Serratore’s Beavers did it in style, taking down defending champ Minnesota State.

Mar 5, 2024 by Tim Rappleye

Bemidji State last won the MacNaughton Cup in 2017, in a defunct men’s league (WCHA) against a defunct team (Alabama-Huntsville) in a game played south of the Mason Dixon Line. 

Seven years later, Tom Serratore’s Beavers did it in style, swamping six-time defending champion Minnesota State 6-0 at home. That MacNaughton streak began on the heels of BSU’s 2017 title.

“You couldn’t ask for a better script,” said Serratore, basking in his 23rd season. “The first time we won that thing, it was the second week of February with about three weeks to go [two, for the record]. We won it in Huntsville, and it wasn’t the same. There’s nothing like doing it at home, with your rival who is competing for the Cup, as well.”

Friday was a night for the green and white scrapbooks, as minutes after the Beavers’ decisive victory, three generations of BSU hockey carried the 40-pound MacNaughton Cup out to center ice, where it received a proper ceremony. 

Bryan Grand (BSU class of 1970), Bob Fitzgerald (BSU 1984) and Jordan Heller (BSU 2018) placed the silver chalice at the hip of CCHA commissioner Don Lucia. After a few congratulatory sentences, the sweaty champions cleaned and jerked the Cup to the delight of Beaver Hockey Nation. 

It’s the fans and alums who mean the most to Serratore. 

“We don’t play for coaches and players, we play for alumni, fans who are clapping and had our backs when we hoisted that trophy,” Serratore said. “There’s nothing that puts a smile on my face more than seeing people appreciate the job we did. To make their night, make their week, make their month . . . that’s what you play for.” 

Bemidji captain Kyle Looft’s choice to return for a fifth year paid off with the silver. 

“I told coach I was so happy I came back,” Looft said. “This program means so much to me and my family now these five years. I wouldn’t say winning this trophy validated it, it just makes it even better. It’s an incredible feeling to celebrate with your teammates, lift it up in front of your home crowd.” 

If there is an MVP on this championship team, it is senior transfer Jackson Jutting, a forward who missed over two months of this season with a lower body injury.

“Juts is our guy,” Serratore said, truth in four words.

Jutting’s contributions are represented by both his scoring and his leadership, never more apparent than the second period of Friday, at a time when the game’s outcome was in doubt. 

With an historic trophy at stake, Jutting pounded in two goals and set up two more, turning a scoreless game into a 4-0 runaway. 

Like all hockey leaders, he deflected praise, using terms like “chemistry” and “trust” to describe his line, and he noted how the entire Beavers team “bought into the game plan.” 

BSU radio man Brian Schultz is the unofficial historian of Bemidji State hockey, having called every minute of this championship season. 

On Saturday Schultz recalled the injury – and the response – that sidelined Jutting on Nov. 24. 

“We were playing North Dakota, a knee-on-knee hit,” Schultz said. 

He described how Jutting, knowing full well he wouldn’t be playing again any time soon, kept his jersey on and stayed on the bench. The conclusion was clear: Jutting figured he would be doing more good staying with the team than nursing his wounds in the locker room.

Serratore’s “Beaver Hockey” is predicated on sacrifice. A season’s worth of selfless play and dedicated rehabilitation culminated in a trophy hoist for Jutting, a unique experience for the team’s rock.  

“It’s new to me, the first time I’ve won a big championship trophy,” Jutting said. “I’ve won tournaments growing up, but nothing like a regular-season title. The whole last year, we’ve been thinking about winning that, and for it to come true, and get my hands on it, it feels pretty good.”

Margins of victory in the CCHA – a league defined by its parity – are so tight that a consistent goal scorer can transform a .500 team into a champion, and that is exactly what Jutting is for the Beavers. 

A pair of goals in Mankato the week before his injury first exposed the vulnerability of the champs, an overtime dagger against St. Thomas two weeks ago pushed the Tommies out of first place. Then, his four-point tour-de-force Friday night cemented his place in Bemidji State hearts and minds. 

The words of Serratore bear repeating: “Juts is our guy.”

How The Rest Was Won

After the MacNaughton Cup was handed out Friday, three teams still were vying for the final home-ice spot in the standings. 

On Saturday, games played 90 miles apart in the Upper Peninsula determined travel plans for Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Bowling Green. 

Michigan Tech squelched the drama early by jumping off to an early 2-0 lead against St. Thomas, then cruising to its own 6-0 victory. 

By the start of the second period in Marquette, the Northern Michigan-Bowling Green game was moot in terms of home-ice bids. 

Of all the Husky goals, the most significant was scored by rookie Isaac Gordon. 

He had been snake bit – one goal in his previous five games entering Saturday’s contest. His teammates were doing everything they could to tee him up. When his linemate Ryland Mosley found Gordon at the hashmarks late in the second stanza, the freshman deftly kicked the puck to his blade and found the top of the net. 

The Huskies need the Gordon/Mosley tandem to be on track if they are to threaten for the Mason Cup.

Unlike last year, there was no nail-biting drama in the conclusion of the CCHA’s regular season, no raging controversies. 

Tech and St. Thomas tied for second place, but if they end up advancing, UST will host the semifinal because of its superior record in head-to-head games.

In addition to Bemidji State’s dominance, there are two major takeaways at the conclusion of the CCHA’s regular season: 

One is the utter collapse of Minnesota State, the reigning champ being shut out on consecutive nights with MacNaughton within reach. The Maverick dynasty is no more.

The other trend is the play of Tech goaltender Blake Pietila. The reigning CCHA player of the year quietly has returned to form, allowing but two goals in his last four games, insane numbers for anyone except him. 

Picking up two shutouts in consecutive weekends is not newsworthy in Copper Country because of Pietila’s prodigious body of work. He finished his final regular season at Tech as the program’s career leader in seven categories.

Diversity Moment In Marquette

Northern Michigan sophomore Isack Bandu scored his first career goal Friday night, the game-winner against Bowling Green, to help keep alive Northern’s hopes of home ice. 

One of the few black players in the CCHA, Bandu raised awareness throughout a hockey world seeking to expand its horizons.

“I don’t know Isack, but it sounds like a great moment for him,” said St. Thomas assistant Leon Hayward, one of two black coaches in Division I hockey. “For me, it was watching Jarome Iginla play in Kamloops or Paul Jerrard coaching in Hershey. I hope there were some kids there watching Isack or see his highlights, so they are inspired to play (Division I) hockey.”

Bryant McBride, the former NHL vice president who created the league’s Diversity Task Force a generation ago, was pumped to hear of Bandu’s big night. 

“Change is coming across all levels of the game, where players of color are making an impact,” McBride said. “The fact that Bandu is scoring a huge goal in a significant college game is a testament to the growth.”

Loose Biscuits 

  • Should the CCHA seedings hold, the automatic NCAA bid – ordinarily given to the winner of the CCHA’s championship game – will be a foregone conclusion.

    If St. Thomas holds serve and makes it to the Mason Cup finale, the Tommies will be playing for the Cup but not the bid, because NCAA bylaws prohibits the former Division III school to compete for a Division I title until 2026.
  • Bemidji State’s back-to-back shutouts was last accomplished by the Beavers in a sweep of Alabama Huntsville back in 2021. In their history, they had never shut out Minnesota State in consecutive games.

  • At the conclusion of Saturday’s St. Thomas-Michigan Tech game, Tommies coach Rico Blasi walked halfway across the ice to shake Blake Pietila’s hand, showing full respect for one the CCHAs all-time greats. Odds are, Pietila and Blasi will face each other one last time in a CCHA playoff game.

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