2022 Minnesota State vs Bowling Green - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota State Faces Test

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota State Faces Test

This weekend in CCHA: super-power Minnesota State is without its majordomo and its leading scorer while playing a top-four team on the road.

Feb 3, 2022 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota State Faces Test

College hockey has just entered its shortest and most important month. At last count, there were a zillion permutations in the possible final standings of the CCHA regular season, even if one presumes that Minnesota State finishes first and St. Thomas eighth, and technically neither has clinched their spots at the two ends of the dial. But there are trends, and there is the eye test, and there are bounces, and as this CCHA horse race hits the home stretch, we have enough information to make educated guesses. And then the puck drops. 

This weekend there is a lot of noise to obscure the signal: super-power Minnesota State is without its majordomo and its leading scorer while playing a top-four team on the road; Ferris and Lake State both have byes; while Northern Michigan and Tech play three games a week. Bemidji is losing games in droves despite playing like a post-season contender, having picked up two CCHA player-of-the-month selections. Go figure. Let’s try to break it down.

No. 1 Minnesota State Vs. Bowling Green

This series has always been a challenge for the Mavericks, especially in the Madhouse on Mercer. And now the men in purple arrive with one hand tied behind their back (missing scoring ace Nathan Smith) and a gag over their mouth (no Mike Hastings barking orders). One might think ’Kato should be ripe for the taking. 

They would be wrong. Minnesota State may have lost Smith, but they just got back 100-point career scorer Reggie Lutz, who tallied in each of his first two games after his 7-week injury hiatus. MNSU has no shortage of pride, and an experienced assistant in Todd Knott. 

Meanwhile, Bowling Green has overachieved to garner its home-ice spot, struggling and sacrificing points against the likes of St. Thomas and Ferris in‌ this new year. 

Prediction: Road Sweep for the Mavs. Julian Napravnik, the current CCHA player of the month and a recent snub off Germany’s Olympic team, is a major reason to watch.

Northern Michigan Vs. Bemidji

If you have only been following these teams from box scores and recaps, this would be a very tough series to pick, because both teams appear to be trending south. Here is where you must rely on the eye test. Despite losing five straight, Bemidji’s last series with Michigan Tech played out like a postseason battle, with fine-tuned special teams, tenacious puck battles, and elite goaltending on both sides. The Beavers are at home, and they realize that their path to the NCAA’s requires them to regain second place in the CCHA regular season (no team is going to beat both Tech and MNSU to capture the Mason Cup). They should be ferocious this weekend at the Sanford Center. 

Northern has accomplished a lot this season, and the rest of the CCHA should thank Grant Potulny and his Cats for their sterling non-conference record. But some unattractive yet familiar traits have crept into the NMU game, namely undisciplined penalties and leaky goaltending. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Cats. For Northern, who despite all the glamor wins against the likes of Duluth, Mankato and Boston University, are still floundering in sixth place in the CCHA. Since shocking the No. 1 Mavericks on January 14, Potulny’s Cats have been outscored 16-5. They’ve only won three road games all year, which does not bode well for this weekend’s bus excursion to frigid Bemidji.

Prediction: Beavers sweep the Cats at Sanford. The Sillinger brothers of BSU are clearly the reasons to watch. 

No. 15 Michigan Tech Vs. St. Thomas 

The number in front of Michigan Tech may be the most misleading ranking in sports. The reality lies in the PairWise computer rankings, which has Tech wedged between national super powers UMass and Quinnipiac at No. 7, exactly where they belong. Coach Joe Shawhan’s deep class of 2022 has been the team’s identity for the last four seasons, and they are fulfilling all that glorious potential this season. Evidence below: 

Thanks to solid goaltending and hustle, St. Thomas boss Rico Blasi usually manages to keep his Tommies competitive until the second intermission of most games. That will be a challenge this weekend. 

Prediction: Rising national power Tech in a road sweep. Brian Halonen, the most underrated player in the NCAA, is a major reason to watch.