2024 Minnesota State vs Michigan Tech - Semifinals

2024 CCHA Mason Cup Playoffs: Semifinal Preview

2024 CCHA Mason Cup Playoffs: Semifinal Preview

The semifinals of this year’s CCHA Mason Cup Playoffs feature a stark contrast in games in terms of anticipated drama. Watch the action this weekend!

Mar 14, 2024 by Tim Rappleye
2024 CCHA Mason Cup Playoffs: Semifinal Preview

The semifinals of this year’s CCHA Mason Cup Playoffs feature a stark contrast in games in terms of anticipated drama. 

The early contest is a classic “pick ‘em,” a game in which you can make a strong case for both clubs. 

The nightcap is a “Baryshnikov,” a game in which viewers tune in to enjoy the sheer brilliance of a particular performer. 

Semifinal 1: No. 4 Minnesota State Vs. No. 3 Michigan Tech

These two teams have been the iron of the new CCHA since its inception in 2021, neither school having missed the NCAA Tournament during that span. By 8 p.m. Saturday night, only one of those schools will have a chance to extend its run.

Fans who attended the Mavericks’ quarterfinal sweep of Northern Michigan likely are convinced that MSU will advance to the championship game of the Mason Cup Playoffs, and with good reason. 

Alex Tracy was lights out in goal, the Mavericks dominated territorially and Sam Morton played like he should be wearing a cape and a red “S” on his chest. His pair of lightning-strike goals in Saturday’s middle stanza sent shock waves through fans and foe alike in the Mayo Clinic Health System Events Center. His 24 goals in today’s era of five-man defensive units is a staggering total. 

Not a soul in the building Saturday was whining about the good old Mike Hastings era. 

Current MSU coach Luke Strand had his former junior stalwarts, Brian Carrabes and Tracy, carrying the club of late. His Maverick squad is fast, deft and tough to score against. They were all that this past weekend.

Michigan Tech is hosting its third straight CCHA semifinal, failing in each of its two prior attempts. Circumstances, however, are different this year: Tech no longer has the luxury of an NCAA at-large berth to fall back on as they did in 2022 and 2023. This absence of a safety net creates true desperation, a critical factor that may reverse the trend.

Coach Shawhan is quick to mention the loss of ballyhooed scorers Kyle Kukkonen and Austen Swankler when assessing his club’s status. The reality is that Tech is better off without them – addition by subtraction. 

Unlike last season, when the two snipers combined for 37 goals, this year is different. The injured tandem tallied but a single goal between them, before both went down with lower body injuries. 

Their departures have created opportunities for the likes of Max Koskipirtti (3-15-18), Jack Works (9-10-19) and Kash Rasmussen (2-9-11). 

Tech also has a pair of 30-point men in Ryland Mosley and Isaac Gordon, the latter emerging as the deadliest shooter in the CCHA. 

The Huskies are four lines deep, with an all-star in goal. There also is a rumor that Swankler may return, which could upset a working chemistry on the Tech bench. Stay tuned.

Elimination games usually come down to goaltending, and there is little to choose from in this matchup. Tech’s much-decorated Blake Pietila is coming off a rare off night, while the aforementioned Tracy just enjoyed his best NCAA weekend.

Prediction: Pietila returns to form, and Tech finally gets to play for a Mason Cup. Huskies exploit home ice with a 4-2 win, the final goal entering an empty net.

Semifinal 2: No. 7 Lake State Vs. No. 1 Bemidji State

The Cinderella Lakers are to be applauded for prevailing in three grueling games last weekend at St. Thomas, but in this weekend’s semifinals, their carriage turns into a pumpkin. Bemidji is nearly 100% healthy and playing the best hockey in the CCHA. 

Lake States top unit of Connor Milburn, Jared Westcott and Dawson Tritt will get a steady diet of Bemidji defensive stalwarts Kyle Looft and Will Magnuson. This particular matchup will determine how competitive the Lakers will be against the regular-season champs.  

Bemidji State’s relentless attack in the deepest end of the offensive zone is a flashback to the Union College championship club of 2014. The Dutchmen were known as “Wild Dogs,” tormenting defenders down below the goal line and then driving for the pipes. 

The Beavers have replicated that formula, undefeated in their last 10 games, having not lost a CCHA game since January. 

Winning has become so habitual for the Beavers that they were undaunted last Friday, despite trailing by a goal in the closing minutes against Ferris. 

Captain Kyle Looft refused to consider defeat, pacing up and down the bench exhorting his troops. He eventually set up the tying goal. 

The 2024 All-CCHA team is draped in green. Four Beavers – goaltender Mattias Sholl, defensemen Looft and Eric Pohlkamp, and sniper Lleyton Roed – all made the first team. 

Despite being a teenager, rookie Pohlkamp is a man on a mission. 

This calendar year he already has hoisted the World Junior Championship trophy, the century-old MacNaughton Cup and now is hungry for more. 

Pohlkamp has averaged over a point a game since February, and his three goals led BSU past Ferris in the quarterfinals. The Mason Cup is his latest target, and he is amped to power the Beavers through Lake State to get his hands on it.

Lost in the Beavers celebrated scoring list of Pohlkamp, Jackson Jutting, Eric Martin and Lleyton Roed is Adam Flammang. The sophomore carried the club on the front end of its six-week rampage through the CCHA. If, and when, he gets rolling again, BSU will be unstoppable.

Prediction: Bemidji State will exhaust Lake State by the end of the second period, winning going away 5-1. 

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