Men's CCHA Hockey

CCHA Media Day: Minnesota State Remain Favorites, Tommies Join D-1

CCHA Media Day: Minnesota State Remain Favorites, Tommies Join D-1

Season previews for Bemidji State, Minnesota State, Ferris State and St. Thomas.

Sep 24, 2021 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Media Day: Minnesota State Remain Favorites, Tommies Join D-1

The new CCHA just staged its inaugural media day, a platform for coaches to tell the hockey world what to expect from their respective squads. Part Two of the CCHA Media Day recap includes Bemidji State, Minnesota State, Ferris State and St. Thomas.

Bemidji State

A weekend at Bemidji State is rarely enjoyed by the visitors: there’s no guarantee that the temperature will be above zero, and once you take the ice, you’ve got to skate through multiple layers of defense just to catch a glimpse at the Beavers net. 

BSU’s signature style—stifling defense and relentless puck pursuit—claimed the national stage this past March, when the Beavers soundly defeated favored Wisconsin in the national tournament. Their upset confounded the ESPN production team covering the NCAA regional, as Buccigross, Melrose and company were caught unawares.

CCHA teams know all too well the unpleasant task of those 60-minute wars with a Tom Serratore club, one that has been bolstered by the return of “Super Seniors” (5th year players due to COVID exemptions) Ethan Somoza and Brad Johnson. “The room lit up, so did the staff,” said Serratore about the return of their leaders. “You can’t put a price tag on having those guys back.”

A guy the Beavers won’t get back is supreme goaltender Zach Driscoll, a Top-10 finalist for the Richter Award as the nation’s top goalie last year. Regardless of how fierce the competition is in practice up in Bemidji, there simply is no replacing a .930 save percentage. The loss of Driscoll makes the Beavers vulnerable on their perch as the predicted number two team in the CCHA.

Minnesota State

There is no disputing the CCHA’s number one team. Minnesota State is gunning for their fifth consecutive MacNaughton Cup as regular season champs. They have two projected all-league forwards returning (Nathan Smith and Julian Napravnik), and possess the most decorated goalie in the land back between the pipes in Dryden McKay. To compensate for the loss of elite senior talent, Mike Hastings secured the return of “Super Seniors” Jack McNeeley, an anchor on defense, and Reggie Lutz, their power play mainstay.

For rivals hoping Minnesota State might take its foot off the gas because of the fact that they finally reached the Frozen Four, you can forget about it. Hastings’ Mavericks were a period away from playing for the NCAA title, a period in which they held a lead, before falling in the semis to St. Cloud. That bitter memory will clearly motivate.

“That hurts,” said Hastings. “Got to learn from the peaks and valleys.” For those who like Vegas action, 14-1 to win it all might be the best bargain on the board.

Ferris State

Ferris State’s Bob Daniels is the wise elder of the CCHA. Despite not winning a Division I game last year, he remains upbeat as he punches in for his 30th season in Big Rapids. “We’re going to have good players in the stands because of our depth.” A solid Ferris team would be a return to normalcy. This is the 10th anniversary of the Bulldogs trip to the NCAA Championship game.

St. Thomas

And finally, wild card St. Thomas, a team that just elevated to Division I status, a program that Vegas wouldn’t allow on their betting boards, is led by one of college hockey’s great coaches in Rico Blasi. His goal is not to immediately contend for a CCHA title, though he fully intends to compete. The first job is to build a culture at St. Thomas. His methods have been unique, starting in April.

Because the Tommies D-III schedule was so abbreviated due to COVID, he had plenty of practice time at his disposal. So at the tail end of the 2020-21 season, he held a two-week tryout/evaluation session of his inherited D-III Tommies. He ended up changing the sports lives of a dozen delighted players.

“When we had the meeting to tell the 12 that they were transitioning to Division I, honestly it was one of the most rewarding days that I’ve had as a coach,” said Blasi, whose Miami squad played in the 2009 NCAA Championship game. “Just to see the look on those guys' faces, and see the excitement, the opportunity they have ahead of themselves, was really something special.”

Blasi’s determined dozen will get an extreme education on October 3, when the Tommies host top-ranked St. Cloud State Huskies at the Excel Center in St. Paul. FloHockey will capture all the action from the NHL home of the Minnesota Wild, as viewers from every corner of the hockey world can watch Coach Blasi’s much-awaited return to Division I hockey. It will be intriguing to see how long his squad of Division I newbies can keep up with the national finalists in Minnesota’s ultimate hockey venue.