2022 Minnesota Duluth vs Minnesota State - Men's

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota Duel With Family Ties

CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota Duel With Family Ties

The CCHA’s hopes of having three teams make the NCAA tournament in March could very well be determined this weekend.

Oct 14, 2022 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: Minnesota Duel With Family Ties

It is barely mid-October, yet the post-season prospects of the CCHA will be carved into this weekend of non-conference play. The iron of college hockey, the NCHC, will travel three teams to different CCHA venues for games with oversized implications. 

Omaha travels to Lake State, No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth buses south to play No. 5 Minnesota State, and Bowling Green plays a home-and-home with No. 18 Western Michigan. 

The CCHA’s hopes of having three teams make the NCAA tournament in March could very well be determined this weekend, with five of the six contests available on FloHockey.TV. Let’s break them down.

No. 4 Duluth Vs. No. 5 Minnesota State 

They should call this series the “Sandelin Bowl.” It’s the fourth straight year that Mavericks senior Ryan Sandelin has suited up as the enemy against his dad—Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin. 

According to local lore, it was mom Wendy who was the driving force in Ryan’s decision to play down in Mankato, and not her husband. Wendy was the one seen wearing a freshly stitched double jersey at the 2021 Frozen Four, in which both husband and son participated.

It’s no coincidence that since Ryan joined the Mavericks, Minnesota State has finally started to beat their rivals. Last weekend, Ryan was the man of the hour in Mankato, scoring the tie-breaking goal deep in the third period to salvage a split with the No. 2 Gophers. 

He was the Mavericks leading goal scorer last year with 21 snipes, so the spotlight—and a parade of Duluth checkers—will be following him all weekend long. 

It is the newcomers, however, that propelled the Mavericks in last Saturday’s gutty victory over the Gophers. Sophomore goalie Keenan Rancier has been handed the keys to the goaltending kingdom in Mankato, and despite losing Friday night in Minneapolis, he was named starter the next night, one in which he held on for his first NCAA victory. 

The youngest player on the team, Christian Fitzgerald, received the lion’s share of the post-game praise Saturday, for feats not recorded on the score sheet. With Saturday’s game hanging in the balance, the freshman winger laid out to block two shots, sacrificing his body for the Maverick cause. 

“Going out and blocking shots the way that he did, let’s just hope that’s a little bit of a coming out party for him,” said Hastings. 

“We grew up a little bit.”

How much growth will be measured this weekend in Mankato. The Bulldogs are still sore from getting swept by Minnesota State last season at home, a pair of losses that put their season into a tailspin. Duluth fans will be well-represented in a pair of games that should exceed sellout numbers in Mankato. Wendy Sandelin will be in the stands at the Mayo Clinic Events Center, another chance to break out her double-stitched sweater.

Prediction: Hard to imagine a sweep for either side. A hard-fought split will maintain civil relations at the Sandelin dinner table.

Omaha Vs. Lake Superior State 

Lakers coach Damon Whitten is a public relations master, citing a variety of statistics to sell his program’s accomplishments over the last four seasons. From the CCHA’s point of view, this is the perfect time to deliver on the hyperbole. 

The Lakers have as much experience and elite talent their three-star coaching staff could hope for, including the top forward (Louis Boudon) and defenseman (Jacob Bengtsson) in the country, according to Whitten. Their two-headed monster in goal, Seth Eisele and Ethan Langenegger, have not delivered yet in this young season. And if the Lakers hope to return to the NCAA tournament, and “hang another banner,” as Whitten says, the time is now for goaltending to match their skaters.

The Lakers hosted NCHC power Denver to open the 2018-19 season, another season of high expectations for Whitten. The home team suffered a pair of excruciating losses to the Frozen Four-bound Pioneers, and never quite recovered. From the Lakers point of view, history cannot repeat itself. 

Omaha is vulnerable. Despite smoking Minnesota State in an exhibition game, they dropped a pair last weekend to unheralded Niagara at home. There is a time-tested adage in sports: “It’s not who you play, but when you play them.” 

The Lakers are playing Omaha at the exact right time, and they need to collect a bundle of points, not only for their record and their league’s Pairwise, but for their own confidence. Winning is habit-forming, and habits are formed early in the season.

Prediction: Lakers get the edge at home, a win and at least another point in Game 2.  

Bowling Green Vs. No. 18 Western Michigan 

Of these three high-profile matchups, this is the only one found on the DraftKings docket. Western Michigan is the overwhelming favorite at home on Thursday, before the two clubs bus south for Friday’s game at BGSU. The Falcons might be the best bet of the week as one can get $260, for only risking a hundred. 

Ty Eigner’s bunch came within minutes of sweeping Northern Michigan on the road, and then split with rising power Michigan State. CCHA Goalie of the Week Zack Rose delivered two impressive wins in each of the past two weekends. He will get at least one game against NCHC power Western Michigan. Perhaps this is the weekend that Eigner puts Rose into the driver's seat and lets him start both games. 

What the DraftKings have not learned is that Eigner’s rebuilding plan skipped a year when he acquired two bookends on defense: Zach Vinnell (Merrimack transfer) and Hunter Lellig (Duluth transfer). They are the fire and ice duo, Vinnell the puck mover and Lellig the shutdown defender. Any time there is a crisis, Eigner can send out that pair and exhale.

Offensively, the tandem of Nathan Burke and Austen Swankler gives the Falcons offense they can count on each weekend. Here in mid-October, the hockey world—and the gambling world—has yet to discover how solid Bowling Green has become. Readers might want to take advantage of the oversight.

Prediction: Falcons split with last year’s NCAA quarterfinalists, gaining respect and computer points for the CCHA.