2024 Michigan Tech vs Bemidji State - Final

CCHA Mason Cup Playoffs: Bemidji State And Michigan Tech Set For Final

CCHA Mason Cup Playoffs: Bemidji State And Michigan Tech Set For Final

Assessing the Mason Cup Playoffs final comes down to one question: Can anyone slow the roll of Bemidji State? The Beavers will face Michigan Tech.

Mar 19, 2024 by Tim Rappleye

Assessing the Mason Cup Championship game comes down to one question: Can anyone slow the roll of Bemidji State? 

In successive showdown weekends, Minnesota State, Ferris State and Lake Superior State all have failed in succession. That’s five clutch wins in a row, extending an 11-game unbeaten streak for the Beavers that dates back to Feb. 3.

The last time Bemidji lost a CCHA game was all the way back on Jan. 19, when Michigan Tech, Friday’s opponent, beat Bemidji State 2-1. 

The game featured a classic goaltending matchup between the Huskies’ All-CCHA goalie Blake Pietila and the Beavers’ All-CCHA goalie Mattias Sholl. 

Tech picked up four points that weekend to claim the season series 2-1-1. 

The tie the following night sure felt like a victory for the Beavers, who celebrated a shootout win on Tech ice. The head-to-head point totals could not have been closer: a 7-5 advantage for the Huskies.

Regarding the celebrated stoppers in net, there also is very little to choose from. 

CCHA coaches voted Sholl to the first team this year, Pietila to the second team. Last year, it was the reverse, with Pietila receiving top honors. 

In recent play, both have earned two shutouts in their last four games. If there is any edge whatsoever, it is revealed in the program: Pietila is listed as 6 feet tall, while Sholl is 5-foot-10. 

Sholl does an excellent job taking away the bottom of the net, but two inches in height is a disadvantage, especially for shooters who blast high. Tech has three such snipers: Issac Gordon (18 goals), Ryland Mosley (17 goals) and Logan Pietila (13 goals). Odds are, at least one of them will find high-twine this weekend.

A look at the standings shows that Bemidji State won the MacNaughton Cup by nine points over Tech and St. Thomas. Bemidji’s success down the stretch was based on the classic championship formula: talent from the goal out. 

In front of Sholl is CCHA Defenseman of the Year Kyle Looft, and on the next shift, CCHA Rookie of the Year Eric Pohlkamp. 

And it’s more than just defensemen who support Sholl: every player on the team dedicates himself to blocking shots. They led the conference with 556 blocks, all part of coach Tom Serratore’s philosophy of “Beaver Hockey,” altruism that translates to bruises, and in the case of Looft, a broken bone.

What’s remarkable about Bemidji State’s success is that other than its goaltending and blocked shots, it is a statistically flawed team. 

The penalty-kill, usually the pride of the CCHA, is seventh in the conference at .752, over 10 points lower than a typical Serratore club. The power play also is seventh in the conference – a mediocre 16.4% efficiency rating. 

The Beavers struggle in the faceoff dot, winning a paltry 47% of their draws. They survive because they take the fewest penalties in the league and are absolute monsters playing five-on-five hockey. Their 88 even-strength goals lead the CCHA.

Michigan Tech, on the other hand, has an excellent power play, leading the league at 22.9%. The Huskies likely will need to draw penalties Friday night if they are to win on the road. 

They got an inordinate amount of puck luck to survive their semifinal with Minnesota State, none more so than Logan Pietila’s winning goal, which was college hockey’s answer to the “Magic Bullet.”

Despite a rash of injuries, Tech is getting contributions from four forward lines, goals from the most unexpected of sources, such as freshman Henry Bartle and journeyman Blais Richartz.   

The result is a locker room that shares a unity of purpose and a genuine affection for one another. 

Chemistry helps, but it can’t be a band-aid for the defensive miscues that allowed Minnesota State to grab the lead three different times in Saturday’s semifinal. There is inexperience on the Huskies blue line – three first-year players – and that could come back to haunt them. 

The Home-Ice Factor

Bemidji State is hosting its first league championship game since its run to the Frozen Four in 2009. 

Getting to play in the Sanford Center on Friday is a major reason Las Vegas has made the Beavers a 1.5-goal betting favorite. 

BSU coach Serratore loves “the juice” in its building the past three weekends. 

There are convincing studies that illustrate how home teams benefit from favorable officiating. Those are the benefits.

But there also is a downside to playing too much at home. There is a conga line of well-wishers and back-slapping classmates constantly telling the heroes how great they are. It can alter a team’s sense of urgency. 

It has been six weeks since BSU lost a game, six weeks since the players had to face the music of a coach looking to make changes at practice. The result often is lapses in concentration. 

The Lakers outplayed Bemidji State for long stretches Saturday, dominating the Beavers in the latter stages of the second period. 

Ferris did the same for two periods of its quarterfinal opener. 

All those gaffes are conveniently forgotten amidst the carousel of celebrations and headlines in the Bemidji Pioneer Press. 

Teams need road trips to stay grounded, and these Beavers haven’t been out of Minnesota in over a month. It’s one of the few intangibles working against Bemidji State.

Prediction: Bemidji State will have its “Come to Jesus” moment in the form of an early deficit and will need all its forechecking will to get back in the game. 

The Beavers, however, will find a way, winning the Mason Cup and representing the CCHA in the national tournament for the first time since 2021. 

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