The Ultimate WCHA Notebook: Reliving Bemidji-Minnesota State & Other Action

It’s the Saturday of the Thanksgiving holiday — a time when college hockey teams’ seasons are taking shape. Michigan Tech coach and U.P. lifer Joe Shawhan says “Saturday is the night the men have to come out and play.” 

Appropriately, the best action in the WCHA is all up north, well above the 45th parallel: Northern Michigan completes a “Cappo Cup” weekend in Sault Ste. Marie against the No. 20 Lakers; Shawhan’s Huskies look to remain undefeated in league play against the Nanooks from Anchorage, and the tastiest matchup is out on the western fringe of Minnesota’s frosty Iron Range, as Bemidji State looks to knock off the pride of the WCHA, national No. 3 Minnesota State. Beavers goalie Zach Driscoll is desperate to rebound from last week’s disheartening defeat at the hands of St. Cloud, his former squad and the top team in the country. They peppered Driscoll with four early goals, chasing him from the game before the contest was half over. This is one of those opportunities sports so frequently presents: a chance at redemption, this one against another national superpower. Driscoll is playing at home, and only a Scrooge would root against this kid.

Armed with my trusty laptop and subscription to FloHockey, I can create my own WCHA network, and drop in to all the venues in real time. It’s Hockey Night on Campus; let the games begin!

6:59 pm EST 

The zamboni is done spinning laps at Taffy Abel Arena up in the the Sault. This is the first course in this extended hockey Thanksgiving: a battle between U.P. neighbors Northern and Lake State known as the Cappo Cup. The Lakers took out the Wildcats the night before, solving the normally impenetrable Atte Tolvanen. They’re looking to add some separation between themselves and their neighbors in the WCHA standings.

7:04 pm 

An angelic voice croons the national anthem under an armada of Lake State championship banners. But it’s Canada’s national anthem, which makes perfect sense considering that the border to Canada is a mere slapshot from the Arena. The “Star Spangled Banner” follows.

7:08 pm 

Bill Crawford of LSSU Radio joins the webcast. He informs us that for the first time this year, the Lakers are using star goalie Nick Kossoff for both weekend games, going all-in for the bid to sweep the Cats.

7:09 pm 

Puck drop in the Sault . . . The Lakers starting forwards are a United Nations line whose primary languages are Japanese (Yuki Miori), Swedish (Eriksson), and French (Anthony Nellis). They swarm the Wildcats to open the game, generating multiple chances on Tolvanen. Lakers spend nearly all of the first two minutes in the attacking zone, winning all the races. The Big Finn in goal for Northern appears rock steady, as he must. During a neutral zone regroup, the Lakers are called for icing, a call that is pointedly disputed in the Laker broadcast booth. 

7:11 pm 

The Lakers never clear the zone after that icing, and the Wildcats’ undersized freshman Jarrett Lee collects a turnover wrapped in a bow, firing a perfect cross-ice pass to Luke Voltin. The Wildcat junior unloads a one-time bomb past Kossoff. Northern has scored on its first shot of the game, 2:19 in, to silence Abel Arena. The play is a series of firsts for the men in green: It’s Voltin’s first snipe of the year; Lee’s first point of his career. 1-0 Cats.

7:13 pm 

Tolvanen makes three saves in sequence, two on his backside, preserving the 1-0 lead.

7:15 pm 

Cats Troy Loggins heads to the box for high sticking at the four-minute mark, Lakers to PP. LSSU freshman Gage Torrel maintains lengthy zone possession, Lakers add to their rising shot differential, but generate no Grade-A chances.

7:16 pm 

Penalty expires, but Lakers finally get their Grade-A. Nellis receives a cross-ice pass, all alone as he attempts a one-timer from 10 feet out. No wood for Nellis, who misfires wide to the short side in front of a gaping net.

7:20 pm 

Media timeout, and I consider switching feeds over to the Alaska-Tech game. I check my mobile device and see that Huskies Gavin Gould has scored early, so I keep it in the Sault. I’m rewarded with a massive scoop from Laker radio man Crawford. He has spotted Wildcats veteran stars Daniel Craighead and Phil Beaulieu in street clothes in the neighboring pressbox. Both are healthy scratches in this crucial game. Northern’s dynamic young bench boss Grant Potulny jettisoned two of his studs to send a message. This is serious poker from Potulny: Desperate times require desperate measures. 

7:23 pm 

Local Laker Ashton Calder finds Diego Cuglietta, streaking on a rush for another quality chance. Lakers pushing the pace. Calder keeps picking off Wildcats clearing passes; Lakers turning up pressure. The ice is tilting towards Tolvanen.

The Finn between the pipes needs a solid night; the veteran goalie gave up four goals the night before, he cannot be leaky if the Cats hope to split this series. Good goalies love rubber, and he’s getting plenty.

7:26 pm 

Voltin trips Nellis, Lakers to second PP of period . . .

LSSU wins draw, but are forced into battles to gain mere seconds of in-zone possession. Northern’s heavy checking pays off: Lakers Brayden Gelsinger whistled for hooking, now four on four.

7:30 pm 

Adam Rockwood and Troy Loggins create serious pressure on tail end of Northern’s mini PP.

Bruising play results in another Cats penalty, Ryan Black for boarding with 5:19 remaining in first.

7:32 pm 

Gelsinger earns a terrific chance, but denied. Tolvanen is brilliant going post to post.

Lakers PP getting room for passes East to West across blue line, low to high on the dots, and screen shots from point, but the Cats’ dense pack defense keeps the door shut.

7:34 pm 

Lakers veteran D-man Ruggiero breaks up the two-on-one, collects the puck and rushes the length of ice, rolling the puck in front of Tolvanen for another Grade-A chance. Remarkable individual effort for defensive defenseman, but for naught.

Shots 9-3 Lakers with 2:20 remaining in first.

LSSU freshman Jacob Nordqvist has a big shift, creating two chances to end the period 1-0 Cats, shots 10-3 Lakers. It’s been the Atte Tolvanen show in the opening act at Abel Arena.

During intermission, Lakers assistant Mike York jumps on headset with Crawford and describes Northern as a “heavy” team. He ain’t kidding.

I switch to FloHockey’s feed from Houghton for Alaska at Tech — score remains 1-0 Huskies during the intermission at MacInnes Arena. P.A. is blasting “I want to drive a zamboni . . .” as accompaniment for the ice resurfacing. With the puck drop in Bemidji still 15 minutes away, I return to Taffy Abel for more Cappo Cup action.

7:50 pm 

First intermission stats report: Lakers 0-3 on PP (one a 0:55 mini version), shots 10-3.

Period 2 from the Sault…

7:56 pm 

NMU freshman Garrett Klee has partial breakaway, LSSU Kaibel trips him, and Northern to PP. Cats manage a single shot; Kossoff stands tall. It’s becoming a pitcher’s duel in the Sault, as Kossoff demonstrates his own special talent for knocking away pucks. 

Northern may have intentionally deprived themselves of skill with healthy Beaulieu and Craighead in the press box, but they are long on will this night. Whether or not their will is enough to prevent a sweep is a drama worth following, but for now, I’ll be monitoring that via my mobile — I’m switching to FloHockey’s coverage of Minnesota State at Bemidji, the WCHA heavyweight battle of Minnesota. 

8:05 pm 

Intros at Bemidji . . . only one anthem here, no bridge to Canada in their backyard.

W-L Records: Bemidji 5-5-1 Mavs 10-1, Bemidji is tougher than their record based on Tom swarming layers of defense.

Starting goalies are both transfers: Minnesota State’s Mathias Israelsson (from Northern Michigan) leads the nation with a 1.00 GAA, and Zach Driscoll (via St. Cloud) is minding the net for Bemidji. Driscoll has an impressive GAA himself, but is trying to reconcile a poor outing downstate against his old school last week.

Bemidji’s Sanford Center has superior cam angles and lighting, making the product look more like a professional game, a notion confirmed by the way the No. 3-ranked Mavs fly around the ice.

Mavs leading scorer Parker Toumie gets the action started with a 30-foot zinger turned calmly away by Driscoll, and it’s game on.

8:08 pm 

With Beaver fans still settling into their seats, Bemidji’s Owen Sillinger feeds Adam Brady who lets fly from the outer edge of the circle, catching Israelsson off guard, beating him upstairs. Radio man Brian Schultz calls it a “twisted wrister,” and 53 ticks onto the game, the Beavers have their first lead of the weekend. 

8:13 pm 

Mavs generate two Grade-A chances from door step, but Driscoll fights off both, the last one on his backside, extending his big pillow for a kick save.

Beavers circle back and clang the pipe, fire-wagon hockey.

8:19 pm 

Goal! Beavers talented freshman Nick Cardelli squeezes off a 30-footer, and it ramps up high over Israelsson’s glove and into the net. Beavers have the national contenders on the ropes, ripping their stud goalie for two goals in a five-minute span.

8:20 pm 

Mavs coach Mike Hastings has seen enough, and yanks his starter Israelson, bringing in reliever Dryden MacKay at the 5:50 minute mark. College hockey’s statistical goaltending king has been chased, sending electronic shock waves throughout the hockey world, and I’m catching it live on FloHockey. This doesn’t suck.

Trailing 2-0, the high-octane Mavs are turned loose from their stable: Toumie and company are displaying a dangerous combination of skill and speed. It will be a Herculean task to keep this squad under two goals. 

A quick check of the WCHA scoreboard during the media timeout: Tech is now beating Alaska 4-1; Gould has a hat trick for the Huskies and the game is yet to reach the halfway point. Northern still leads LSSU 1-0 at Taffy Abel, with 8:06 remaining in the second. I’ll keep the feed in Bemidji..

8:40 pm 

Beavers’ Adam Brady called for a slash, Mankato to PP, 1:25 remain in first.

Minnesota State scoring 26 percent of the time when a man up, exactly double the Beavers efficiency. We can almost hear Serratore in our heads telling us how 2-0 is the worst lead in hockey. But will prevails over skill to end the first frame, 2-0 Beavers after one. Thirty-six seconds of Mavs PP time carries to the second stanza, and on come the Zambonis.

Intermission guest Mike Soucier chats with the affable “Schultzy” during the broadcast intermission. Soucier fields the question on facing new Mavs goalie Dryden McKay: “He’s not too warm, want to throw pucks at him and maybe get a leaky one.” And when it comes to defending the vaunted Mavs PP: “Be on‘em early.” 

8:45 pm 

That was exactly what the Beavers do, maintaining their two-goal margin into the second. I roll the dice and point FloHockey back to the Sault for the conclusion to the Cappo Cup clash.

The Lakers are taking chances with their D-men, stepping up in neutral ice and pinching along the wall inside the blue line — burned again! 

The Wildcats scream into the Laker zone on a two-on-one, but Lakers Kossof mans up and turns it away. He follows that up with a clever glove save at ice level 3:30 into the final frame.

This battle of Northern neighbors has developed into a first-class pitching duel between veterans Kossoff and Tolvanen. Wildcats outshot the Lakers 9-6 in the second, so Kossoff has warmed to the task.

At the 4:00 mark, the Cats Troy Loggins flies down the wing with a shot and a rebound, two quality chances turned away by Kossoff, who looks impenetrable after being burned by the Cats first shot. 

At 6:52 of the third, Vince de May makes a freshman blunder, penalized in the attacking zone, clearly holds Ruggiero. There is no camera shot of Potulny’s reaction. One can certainly guess . . .

The Laker power play executes: Nellis gets the proper feed to Gelsinger who fires high and true . . . Tolvanen with the glove save! Hockey chess is being played: Lakers moving puck very well, NMU packing it in. Edge to the defense.

Exactly 9:06 into the third, Lakers Hampus Ericksson called for tripping, NMU with the man up and a chance at the dagger.

LSSU’s Nellis battles through traffic to earn a shorthanded rush, fighting in from wing . . . stoned by Tolvanen 10:30 into third. Gripping stuff from the Sault.

9 pm 

Update: First-place Michigan Tech smoking Alaska 6-1. In tennis, it’s called a breadstick (as opposed to a bagel). Wild horses won’t move this laptop from the Sault until this game is settled. 

With 7:22 remain regulation, the Lakers are throwing everything at Northern’s Finnish kicker. First Calder on a breakaway, goes BH . . .denied. Retrieves the puck and feeds Max Humitz for a Grade-A, Tolvananen robs them both. Abel Arena is now a tension convention.

I keep hearing the name of Northern’s truculent freshman Garrett Klee: He is giving the Laker breakout fits with his relentless forechecking. Wildcat freshmen are getting additional icetime because of the mass of minutes sitting in the pressbox. It appears that Potulny’s brassy gamble just might pay off, if Luke Voltin’s early goal stands up.

Three minutes left in the game, Lakers coach Darren Whitten creates a new line comprised entirely of seniors to generate offense. It works. Cuglietta maneuvers behind Tolvanen, slides the puck through his crease, but the angle is off, no dice.

Potulny takes his timeout with 2:49 remaining. His stud Finn sips water in solitude 

At 2:40 the Lakers Ruggiero unleashes a 50-foot bomb, kicked to the corner by the icy Tolvanen. One wonders how many good chances Lakers have left in them, if any.

With 1:55 remaining, the Lakers pull the heroic Kossoff. Seconds later, Nellis gets that chance Laker fans long for, but he misses the tip-in by a fraction.

With 1:16 remaining the Cats Troy Loggins ends the drama with an empty net goal. 2-0 Northern, the dagger jammed between the shoulder blades. 

Seconds before bolting to Bemidji, I hear radio man Crawford draw the parallel to another Tolvanen masterpiece: How he stunned Bowling Green 2-0 earlier this year, also with an empty-netter. 

It’s a huge win for Northern, as they leapfrog Lake State in the WCHA standings, but it’s an even bigger win for Potulny, who makes it loud and clear who’s holding the reins of Wildcat hockey. 

Off to Bemidji.

9:20 pm 

I arrive with four minutes remain in second, Mavs on PP, still trailing two-zip. Jared Spooner finds Edwin Hookenson, who steps in for a one-timer — boom!

Lead is now cut to 2-1, Driscoll beaten through the wickets. One can only wonder if his confidence has been punctured as well. 

Second period ends, 2-1 Beavers.

Back to Houghton!

9:30 pm 

The Nanooks from Alaska are on the PP, trailing Tech 7-2. 

9:35 pm 

It’s over in Houghton, 7-2. First-place Tech is now 6-0-0 in WCHA. The Nanooks can lick their wounds during the long flight home towards the Arctic Circle. 

Return to Bemidji!

A rich storyline is playing out: Can Zach Driscoll hold on and collect the win? Can the Beavers hold halt their four-game losing streak? A lot at stake here in this toss-up game. Bemidji has the lead and home ice; Minnesota State has a ton of talent and confidence; winning has become a habit for the Mavs.

9:40 pm 

I check the scoreboard and see that “Suitcase Steve” Ruggiero has spoiled Tolvanen’s shutout bid with only 12 seconds remaining. It’s his third goal of the year, but it only counts toward a Cappo Cup tiebreak. Final score from the Sault: 2-1 Cats over Lakers.

9:46 pm 

Puck dropped for third period. Radio pal “Schultzy” give me a couple of factoid gems:

  1. This is first time Mavs have trailed entering the third period all season.
  2. Also, when he played at St. Cloud, Driscoll allowed four goals vs Mavs two years ago, pulled after 25 minutes. That’s nearly identical to what he experienced last week at St. Cloud. One can only wonder how he’s fighting off the demons behind that mask.

With 17:38 remaining, the Beavers fourth line generates a push for the entire shift. Freshman D Jubenvill tests McKay with a shot from point. McKay has been superb in relief of Israelsson for the Mavs.

With 17:10 remaining, Beavers Ethan Somoza is tackled in front of net, Connor Mackey to box for Mavs. Shots 29-15 in favor of surging Beavers.

With 16:35 remaining, Charlie Combs ladles sauce to Justin Boadrie, who blasts from the point. Manster (half man, half monster) Jay Dickman tips it for the power play marker, just like you draw it up on the whiteboard. Beavers lead 3-1 at 9:54 pm.

With 14:50 remaining Driscoll s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s his toe out to make save on tester. Beavers appear safe with their two-goal lead.

10 pm 

Confusion reigns. Bemidji’s Dickman goes to box after media break. Serratore’s staff is protesting, and Schultzy and his broadcast partner can’t figure out the mystery call. As the puck is dropped for the Mavericks power play we find out that Serratore has been tagged for too many men on the ice.

Fifteen seconds into the power play, the Mavericks morph in the Russian Red Army. Tuomo to Marc Michaelis to Dalas Gerard for the tic-tac-goal. Driscoll is left hanging out to dry after the final pass crosses his crease. 

The Beavers, once falsely comfortable with a 3-1 lead and a giant edge in shot differential, are now clinging to a one-goal lead with over 12 minutes to play.

Schultzy: Mavs smell “Blood in the water.” Their first line is scary good, has the local fans nervously sitting on hands.

With 9:44 remain, the Beavers generate a rare chance in this tight third period, Dickman screaming in through the middle of the ice and lets fly — over the bar. 

Less than a minute late Aaron Miller gets a good chance in tight, followed by Eichsted bomb tipped off the post, loudly. Beaver fans seem ready to implode.

7:35 remain: Driscoll saves the day, for now. Gripping stuff, for November hockey. 

6:07 left, final media timeout. Shots 35-18 for Bemidji.

Mavs’ Michaelis shot from rush blocked by Eichstadt, bounces into the neutral zone . . .

4:28 remaining, the Mavericks are in full flight. Jake Jaremko gets two chances, including a backhand from point blank range. Driscoll wills himself to slide post-to-post, turning away both. 

10:15 pm 

Final media timeout. Everyone breathing hard.

Beaver freshman Nick Cardelli hustles to keep sustained action in Mavs end, 3:50 remain.

With 2:39 remain, Driscoll clamps down on trickler. Faceoff to his right. Riverboat gambler Hastings pulls McKay SO early.

2:14 remaining, Cardelli just misses ENG off the rush, backhand just wide.

Mavs increase the pressure, Samoza manages to clear out of the Beavers zone, tension unbearable in stands.

With 1:07 remain Aaron Miller picks off Mavs pass at Center ice dot, and the Beavers’ 37th shot is a bullseye into the open net.

Driscoll celebrates hard with mates. He is not one of the three stars at games end, but is atop the hockey world in the middle of loving jam session around his crease.

10:24 pm 

Handshakes at center ice, first conference loss for the supremely talented Mavericks.

Beavers exit through gauntlet of skating cheerleaders waving pom poms.

Brady, Combs, and Dickman are the three stars; they throw souvenirs to delirious fans.

Driscoll appears overjoyed as he heads through tunnel, getting nonstop claps on the back. He took care of serious unfinished business on this special Saturday night in the WCHA, FloHockey’s Hockey Night on Campus.

Tim Rappleye is the author of "Jack Parker's Wiseguys" and the forthcoming book: "Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review," set for release in November. He can be reached @TeeRaps.

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