Men's CCHA Hockey

CCHA RinkRap: Florida Rollerblader Becomes Ice Hockey Olympian

CCHA RinkRap: Florida Rollerblader Becomes Ice Hockey Olympian

This Week on CCHA RinkRap, the long strange trip to the Olympics for MUS’s Nathan Smith and a shutout streak by someone other than Dryden McKay.

Jan 17, 2022 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA RinkRap: Florida Rollerblader Becomes Ice Hockey Olympian

This Week on CCHA RinkRap, the long strange trip to the Olympics for MUS’s Nathan Smith; a shutout streak by someone other than Dryden McKay; and joy tinged with sadness for Potulny’s giant-killers.

Maverick Miracle Man

MSU junior Nathan Smith was one of 15 current NCAA players on Team USA’s Olympic roster representing our country, but he is the only one who learned the game on rollerblades. Raised in Tampa, Florida, Smith was five years old when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. He didn’t start playing ice hockey until he was 11 years old. 

“I was a big Lightning fan, but I never even thought of playing ice hockey,” recalled Smith to Kevin Dudley on the Mankato Free Press.

But it was more than Lord Stanley that pushed the passion button in young Nathan. 

“That movie Miracle, when they [Team USA] won it in 1980. I’ve seen it a thousand times, it gives me goosebumps every single time.” 

A kid from Minnesota or Mass getting hooked on Miracle makes perfect sense, but this is a kid in Florida, a state that had only 2,000 registered players when he started playing, 13K today. This Florida product is now the CCHA’s leading scorer, and is getting to live out his red, white and blue fantasy under the shadow of five rings. Now that is miraculous.

The CCHA’s New “Mr. Zero”?

Shutouts in the CCHA are no longer the exclusive domain of Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay. Michigan Tech junior Blake Pietila just performed a double whitewash of Lake Superior State this weekend, shutouts number four and five of the season; 33 shots faced, 33 turned aside. What has the number cruncher from College Hockey, Inc. diving for his abacus is the fact that Pietila already owned a shutout over Lake State this season, 180 minutes of padded perfection.

After a weekend of digging, the estimable Jayson Hajdu of C.H.I. found a comparable feat. 

“Minnesota Duluth’s Hunter Shepard blanked Miami in four straight starts over the course of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons,” wrote Hajdu. “The streak started with back-to-back shutouts in a Feb. 16-17, 2018 home series, then he did it again (this time on the road) when the two teams first met the following year (Jan. 18-19, 2019).” 

But that streak stretched over two seasons; the Pietila feat stands on its own, at least for now. 

On Thursday, the aforementioned Dryden McKay faces St. Thomas on the road in St. Paul. Should he manage to blank the Tommies, he will join the triple-zero club, having shut out STU in their two previous games in November. What could bring this story full circle is the potential coaching victim. Rico Blasi was behind the bench for Miami when they were stymied by Shepard three years ago. He will be handling the Tommies in their bid Thursday to avoid whitewash number three by McKay. Blasi got some good news Saturday, when his Tommies upset Ferris State in Big Rapids. It was his 400th career Div I victory, 6th on the all-time list of active coaches.

Bittersweet Friday In Marquette

Grant Potulny’s Wildcats knocked off the no. 1 team in the country Friday when they beat MSU 4-2. It was the third time in a row that his Cats had taken out a top-ranked team after sweeping then no. 1 Duluth in December, but Potulny was not in the mood to celebrate in the post-game. He had recently learned that his supreme leader, 5th-year senior Joe Nardi, was lost for the long term due to an injury sustained in practice. “Heartbreak” for Potulny. 

Cats goalie Rico DeMatteo, who outdueled McKay between the pipes on Friday, was benched Saturday in favor of Charlie Glockner, who absorbed the 4-1 loss for Northern. Joey Ellis of TV 6 in Marquette quoted Potulny as saying, “Glockner had earned the opportunity.” Facing an angry Maverick squad, eager to avenge a rare loss, is an opportunity, indeed. 

The Cats ended up splitting with top-ranked MSU, but now have two battle-tested goalies for this weekend’s series with U.P. neighbor Michigan Tech.