NCAA DI Men's Hockey

Michigan Tech Hockey Headed To 2024 NCAA Tournament. Get's BC Hockey First

Michigan Tech Hockey Headed To 2024 NCAA Tournament. Get's BC Hockey First

The Michigan Tech men are headed back to the NCAA Tournament. The bad news? Their first opponent is the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, Boston College.

Mar 26, 2024 by Tim Rappleye

The final installment of “How the West Was Won” between Michigan Tech and Bemidji State aired on FloHockey last Friday, and it was spellbinding. 

The two hottest teams in the CCHA, the two stingiest goalies, the two squads most committed to details tangled up in 1-1 stress test entering the third period.

When the ice chips finally settled, it was Tech goalie Blake Pietila who fired his stick skyward in celebration after his 2-1 victory, knowing his Huskies would represent the CCHA in the 2024 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is Tech’s first-round opponent March 29 – the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, Boston College.

The Eagles just got through steamrolling No. 2 Boston University in the Hockey East Championship game 6-2. The best way to describe BC is that the team possesses a large portion of the 2026 NHL All-Star team. More on the Chestnut Hill juggernaut later.

For Michigan Tech, Friday night’s win was the culmination of a team’s season-long search for identity. 

Coach Joe Shawhan inserted forgotten star Kyle Kukkonen into his array of forwards, a move totally unexpected by Bemidji State. It gave Shawhan three elite lines, and he ignored his fourth, knowing his club was rested – before and after the contest.

But it was Shawhan’s defensive corps that provided the winning edge for Michigan Tech, a group of six that has emerged due to injury, opportunity and hard-earned experience. 

“The growth of our defensive corps has been phenomenal,” Shawhan said. 

Entering the season, none of the Tech defensemen had even a full season worth of NCAA experience, and three were true freshmen.

Ironically, good fortune for Tech’s defensive corps came in the form of an injury. 

Sophomore defenseman Matthew Campbell missed the last month of the regular season with a lower body injury, allowing freshman Nick Williams an opportunity to display elite puck movement in all three zones. This helped activate Husky forwards Ryland Mosley and Isaac Gordon, who began more and more shifts with the puck on their blades. 

When Campbell returned for the CCHA quarterfinals, Tech now had three elite puck movers within their top six, including budding star Blake Pietila, a junior teammate of Williams at Youngstown, the 2023 USHL Turner Cup champ. 

All that puck skill on the back end was critical to Tech’s monumental victory last Friday. 

With the Husky wingers positioned low in the breakout, the MTU defensemen wasted no time making tape-to-tape passes, neutralizing the best forecheck in the CCHA. 

They broke the puck out so well,” Beavers’ coach Tom Serratore said. Short little passes. We were one step behind on the forecheck.”

Once again, the Huskies got elite play from All-American goalie Blake Pietila, limiting the Beavers to a single goal to win the Mason Cup and score the NCAA Tournament’s first automatic bid. 

Two days later, the team gathered at the MacInnes Student Arena to discover its location in the 16-team NCAA bracket. They found out they’ll be playing the Goliath of college hockey Friday afternoon in the Providence Regional, an hour from the Boston College campus.

“It’s surreal being in that room and seeing that matchup,” senior Tyrone Bronte said. “Weve got our work cut out, but I like where were at.”

Shawhan weighed in, too.

“It’s certainly a test, playing them out in their area,” Shawhan said. “But we’re excited to be in the tournament. Look forward to the competition.”

Simply staying competitive with BC will be a major accomplishment. 

The Eagles front-end talent is staggering, with two Hobey Baker top-10 Finalists in Will Smith and Cutter Gauthier, a pair who have amassed 58 goals between them. Another tandem – Gabe Perrault and Ryan Leonard – both have outscored CCHA Player of the Year Sam Morton by more than 20 points. 

Las Vegas has established BC as overwhelming favorites: a 2.5-goal spread and 7-1 on even terms. Michigan Tech has the longest odds of any postseason team to win the tournament at 150-1.

Shawhan simply wants his Huskies to stick around for a period or two on Friday. 

“The goal is to gain confidence as the game goes on, and show that we belong with them,” Shawhan said. Their effort [BC’s] will be to remove any doubt early in the game.”

But the history of the NCAA Tournament is littered with shocking upsets, and a semblance of a case can be made for Tech. 

ESPN analyst Andrew Raycroft, a former goalie, said that the most important position in hockey gives the Huskies a puncher’s chance. 

“They have a grad goaltender, Blake Pietila, who can steal a game,” Raycroft said in Sunday’s selection show. “He’s a guy who can find a way.”

New York Times writer and hockey author Neal Boudette has seen both BC and Michigan Tech play, and he gives Tech the edge in toughness. 

“They’re very physical, BC hasn’t faced that,” Boudette said. “Pietila could stand on his head in any game. I actually think Tech has a chance.”

Continuing the hypothetical of a Michigan Tech upset would require No. 1 BC to overlook the No. 16 seed. Eagles coach Greg Brown did his part, choosing not to mention the Huskies once in his five-minute interview with ESPN Sunday.

Throwing cold water on the upset fantasy is the fact that Boston College has the country’s second-best power play, clicking at over 29%. If Michigan Tech takes more than a couple of penalties, then the current 7-1 Vegas odds will be a bargain. 

Staying out of the box will be no easy feat for Michigan Tech. 

CCHA officials let more borderline calls go without being whistled than the NCAA. Ask Tech 2022 MVP Brian Halonen, who got bounced out of the Huskies opening round on his second shift of his NCAA opener. 

If Huskies freshman enforcer Chase Pietila continues engaging in tough-guy tactics after the whistle in Providence, he will be in the box watching the Eagles work their offensive magic.

If Michigan Tech hopes to compete, it needs to play five-on-five hockey, wear down the Eagles with clean, physical play, and benefit from some signature Blake Pietila larceny. It may sound like madness, but it’s the right month for madness.

Let the games begin.

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