Men's CCHA Hockey

CCHA RinkRap: The Reincarnation Of "Mr. Zero"; Michigan Tech's Aussie

CCHA RinkRap: The Reincarnation Of "Mr. Zero"; Michigan Tech's Aussie

The reincarnation of Mr. Zero in Mankato; an Aussie partakes in a mad-town mauling; and the New World Order of the transfer portal—best of enemies.

Oct 11, 2021 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA RinkRap: The Reincarnation Of "Mr. Zero"; Michigan Tech's Aussie

This week on CCHA RinkRap: the reincarnation of Mr. Zero in Mankato; an Aussie partakes in a mad-town mauling; and the New World Order of the transfer portal—best of enemies.

Conquering Mad-Town

Not since the Nixon administration has Michigan Tech gone into Wisconsin and come out with a sweep. This past weekend, the Huskies took the No. 12-ranked Badgers to the slaughterhouse, decimating the reigning Big 10 champs with five-goal runs on both Friday and Saturday. 

Identical Pietila twins Logan (3 goals, 4 points) and goalie Blake (2 wins, .952 SV%) were primary stars. But another fellow on the scoresheet both nights deserves special attention. Australia-born Tyrone Bronte set up the Huskies opening goal Friday, and sniped a monster power-play marker Saturday. This from a guy who spent part of the off-season flailing in the uncertain seas of the transfer portal, joining his entire Alabama-Huntsville team when the Chargers dropped varsity hockey.

“It’s stressful,” said Bronte in Saturday’s euphoric post-game. “I wanted to find a place to play as soon as possible because there were so many good players in the portal. I was only in there a couple of days, thank goodness.”

He didn’t just wash up on the shores of the Keweenaw Peninsula, he has been entrusted with mega-minutes on the Huskies deadly power play (3 for 6), in addition to playing a regular shift at center. Bronte admits he’s living a Div-I dream, breathtaking for a kid from the Land of Oz.

“Sometimes I need to just take a sec to breathe, take it all in,” said Bronte, who is amazed at the fan support from Tech Hockey Nation. “It’s a culture shock, obviously, these diehard fans, friends, people who come to all these games. We had so many people in the stands today, it’s electrifying, it makes playing so much fun. I learned to try and use it as motivation, as energy, and that’s the biggest thing. The fans bring energy for us, I love it.”

His style is entirely fan-friendly, an undersized centerman who gets around all four corners of the rink like a water bug. He is reminiscent of Stanley Cup champion Tyler Johnson of last year’s Lightning. But he realizes that he must keep making adjustments if he is going to maintain those precious playing minutes.

“I’ve still got things to sharpen up on,” said Bronte. “I’ve given up a goal both games on my line, so there’s things I’ve got to improve on, and that’s what I’m going to focus on.”

Hearing an Australian accent out of the conqueror’s locker room is a breath of fresh air for both the Huskies and the sport itself. Joe Shawhan has plucked a wildcard from Down Under, one who helped sweep the Badgers in Mad-Town for the first time in 47 years.  

The Reincarnation Of ‘Mr. Zero”

There is a plaque at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto honoring late goaltender Frankie Brimsek, an eight-time NHL All-Star with the immortal moniker, “Mr. Zero.” College hockey now has its own “Mr. Zero,” Dryden McKay of Minnesota State. 

In just two weekends of hockey, McKay has snuffed out two of the best teams in the land, recording career shutouts number 25 and 26, to share the all-time lead with Michigan State legend Ryan Miller. With another six months of hockey to play, it is inevitable that McKay will stand alone as college hockey’s king of zeroes, something that will not surprise Mike Hastings, his coach at Mankato going on four seasons. 

“That fire burns inside his belly at a very high rate,” said Hastings. McKay echoed that sentiment to the Mankato Free Press. “I’m a competitor; I want to win at everything I do.”

Despite his prodigious statistical accomplishments, McKay has failed to win the national Mike Richter Award, left on the altar as a finalist the past two seasons. The conventional wisdom is that he doesn’t face severe tests because he plays for such a dominant program.

“He believes there are a lot of people out there that question him as a goaltender,” said Hastings. Based on the first two weekends of play, McKay has answered those questions. He stoned two of the country’s premier teams—reigning champion UMass and co-No. 1 St. Cloud State, two shutouts in seven days against the sport’s iron. PPW is the ultimate motivation in hockey: “Proving People Wrong.” 

Fans should savor the opportunity to see college hockey’s new “Mr. Zero.” He plays nearly every weekend in the purple and gold for Minnesota State.

Best Of Enemies

Due to the wide open spigot of the NCAA transfer portal, players facing their former teammates from past seasons has become a regular occurrence. But few have been so stark as St. Thomas senior Grant Loven’s return to Northern Michigan for the opening of the CCHA season.  He had played 83 games for the Wildcats before heading off to the purple pastures of St. Thomas. After maintaining a stone face for the week leading up to the game, Loven finally conceded how emotional the experience was in Friday’s postgame.

“Yeah, it was definitely circled on my calendar,” said Loven before hopping on the team bus. “Coming back, you never know what to expect, get the first one out of the way, you get a feel for it.”

Loven skated his tail off in the 4-1 loss to Northern, creating a belligerent presence in front of the enemy net that wasn’t lost on his former club. “That’s him, he’s a big strong kid, going to the right areas,” said Cats coach Grant Potulny.

“It was nice seeing Lovey, he’s a great kid and he’ll always be a friend,” said Northern captain Joe Nardi,” but when you step on the ice it’s a different animal. You put that friendship aside and battle.”

With three minutes remaining in Friday’s game, Loven found himself in the Northern crease, surrounded by familiar enemies who were all shoving and banging for space. Loven insisted that despite all the physicality, no ill words were exchanged between the young men who had shared so much.

“No chirping, to be honest,” said Loven. “I have so much respect for the boys on that team. You get those relationships built in the two and a half years I spent there. Great friends of mine, friends I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

St. Thomas Coach Rico Blasi has seen every scenario in his two decades behind the bench, including this recent phenomenon of former teammates becoming combatants. “We went through it last week with Trevor Zins at St. Cloud,” said Blasi late Friday night. He was acutely aware of the stress Loven was under. “He was probably a little emotional, but he did a good job on the PK, got chances at the end of the second [period]. I think tomorrow will be a sign of relief for him, he can just go out and play.”

Loven’s best pal from Northern, captain Joe Nardi, summed it up best. “It was nice to see him, but even better to get the win against him.”