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CCHA notebook: Players of the year, tourney possibilities and looking back at the lost 2019-2020 season

Northern Michigan faces a must-win situation, head coach Grant Potulny explains "the process" and Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings previews the upcoming matchup

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Bowling Green’s Ryan O'Hara battles with Minnesota State’s David Silye in front of the net during a game Friday, Oct. 28, 2022 at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato, Minn.
Maggi Hittinger / Special to The Rink Live

David Silye, who was one of two unanimous decisions to the All-CCHA First Team this week, has been named the league’s Forward of the Year. The Minnesota State junior from Amprior, Ontario, scored a league-best 19 goals and a second-best 29 points.

He scored 10 power-play goals to lead the CCHA. His natural hat trick in the first period of a 4-3 win at home against St. Thomas on Nov. 5 was the only three-goal game by a CCHA player this season.

It was the second straight season a Mavericks player won Forward of the Year with then-senior Nathan Smith winning it last year.

Mavericks vs Michigan Tech 022423-1-4.JPG
Michigan Tech’s Jake Crespi (10) and Minnesota State’s Jake Livingstone battle for the puck during the first period of a game Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato,
Maggi Hittinger / Special to The Rink Live

CCHA Defenseman of the Year

Minnesota State junior Jake Livingstone repeated as the conference’s Defenseman of the Year. The Creston, British Columbia, native finished with five goals and 17 assists for 22 points in 26 CCHA games. He had 28 blocks, compiled a plus-9 rating and won the CCHA’s weekly defenseman honor four times.


So far this season, he has eight goals and 26 assists. He leads conference defensemen in overall games played (37), goals, assists, power-play goals (3) and game-winning goals (2). He also skates with a plus-12 rating.

He was also named to the All-CCHA First Team earlier this week.

Michigan Tech goaltender Blake Pietila watches the action in a CCHA quarterfinal game against St. Thomas on Saturday, March 4, 2023 at MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton, Mich.
Contributed / Michigan Tech Athletics

CCHA Goaltender of the Year

Named a Hobey Baker top-10 finalist on Wednesday as well, Michigan Tech’s Blake Pietila also earned the Goaltender of the Year honor for the CCHA. A three-time CCHA Goaltender of the Month and seven-time weekly winner, he’s also a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, awarded annually to the top Division I netminder.

Pietila has a 23-10-3 record with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage to go along with his nation-leading 10 shutouts.

He led the CCHA in conference wins (14), save percentage (.929) and shutouts (6).

Michigan Tech freshman forward Kyle Kukkonen (9) and senior forward Logan Pietila (13) celebrate a goal during a CCHA quarterfinal game against St. Thomas on Saturday, March 4, 2023 at MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton, Mich.
Contributed / Michigan Tech Athletics

CCHA Rookie of the Year

Michigan Tech’s Kyle Kukkonen (Maple Grove, Minn.) had a six-game points streak where he collected eight goals and an assist toward the end of the season. That rush helped him to lead the Huskies in goals (18), power-play goals (5) and game-winners (5). This effort earned him the conference Rookie of the Year award.


He led all rookies with 14 goals in conference play, and led all skaters with four game-winning goals.

The CCHA coaches vote on the All-CCHA teams and individual honors but are not permitted to vote for their own players or themselves.

Where they stand

Looking ahead to this weekend’s CCHA Mason Cup championship between Minnesota State and Northern Michigan, the winner will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA field of 16.

But what about the loser? Or Tech?

Michigan Tech is tied for 10th in the PairWise Rankings, the system that mimics the criteria used to pick the 16-team NCAA tournament field. Minnesota State is 13th and Northern Michigan is 26th.

By odds, per the PairWise Probability Matrix , Michigan Tech is 100% in for getting an at-large big. Minnesota State has 72% odds of making the field, 66% by automatic qualifier and 6% as an at-large.

Northern Michigan’s odds are 34% and only as an automatic qualifier by beating the Mavericks on Saturday night.

It’s fairly the same on playoffstatus.com , with Michigan Tech a 100% certainty, Minnesota State at 75% as of Wednesday (31% odds if it loses Mason Cup championship to Northern Michigan) and Northern Michigan’s only route is to win (37%).


Minnesota State's Lucas Sowder (21) passes the puck past Arizona State's Demetrios Koumontzis during the second period Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, at the Mankato Civic Center in Mankato, Minn.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Looking back

The seniors on Northern Michigan and Minnesota State have experienced some of the most unique and disappointing seasons in college hockey history.

Four years ago, Northern Michigan’s season ended with a triple-overtime loss to Michigan Tech in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. For Minnesota State, its 31-5-2 campaign in 2019-20 ended after a dominating sweep over Alaska-Anchorage in those same quarterfinals.

It was on March 12, 2020, COVID-19 shut down the season.

“We were talking about it today in the locker room before practice how if COVID didn’t hit, we would have loved to have seen how far that team would’ve made it,” said Minnesota State senior Lucas Sowder on Maverick Hockey Live Podcast this week. “It would’ve been interesting, I think that team was No. 1 in the country all year.”

Sowder, who is still playing with Ryan Sandelin and Cade Borchardt from that rookie season, had six goals and 25 assists as a freshman on that 2019-20 Mavericks team.

“Just devastating,” Sowder continued. “Especially for the seniors. Devastating.”

The Mavericks’ NCAA-high 31 wins that year were, at the time, one win away from the most wins collected in a season.


Last season, Minnesota State rolled to 38 victories before losing in the NCAA title game.

For Potulny, he looks back at that overtime loss and season with the confidence those same players will realize how few opportunities you may have to extend the season.

Andre Ghantous, a freshman on that team, scored to put the Wildcats ahead 3-2 in the second period before Tech’s comeback and overtime game-winner by Logan Pietila after 4½ hours of play.

That's what he's thinking about this week.

“I think it's a chance to come full circle, and the tides definitely had turned from that game going forward,” Potulny said, “and now hopefully we can flip those tides back in our direction, you know, for the foreseeable future.”

The finish conjured memories of the 2019 WCHA title game in which MSU came back against Bowling Green, scoring two extra-attacker goals in the final 1:44 before winning 97 seconds into overtime.
It’s two of the hottest teams around with a conference playoff title and automatic NCAA tournament berth on the line Saturday in Mankato.
Pietila has a nation-leading 10 shutouts this year as Tech awaits NCAA at-large berth.
CCHA to name individual awards later this week.
Minnesota State senior Brendan Furry (Toledo, Ohio) was named forward of the week.
The top-seeded Mavericks scored two quick goals in a span of 30 seconds at the end of the first period to get the sellout crowd back into the game and didn’t look back.
Wildcats will play for playoff championship and an automatic berth into NCAA tournament next weekend.
For a team that made the leap from Division III to D-I a year ago, Year 2 is highlighted by improved play and news of a new arena for the Tommies.
The Bulldogs, the sixth-seeded team in the Mason Cup playoffs, face the defending champion Mavericks on Saturday.
Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny says keeping emotions in check after the whistle will be important against Huskies.

More on ‘the process'

It’s a bit of a cliché these days with some college hockey coaches, but Potulny broke down his definition of it this week. Simply put, its things that his players can have repeatable success with.

For example, he said, he just can’t tell a guy he needs to score a goal. Some players, he says, are just more adept to score more or perhaps in better positions to score goals. “That’s not repeatable success,” he says.


So here’s his breakdown:

“Everybody can have great discipline. Everybody can win races to the pucks. Everybody can make smart decisions with the puck. Everybody can sacrifice their body for the betterment of the group … like those are the types of things that we talk about and those are all repeatable. So you're just asking them to do the things they are capable of.”

men's hockey players
Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings talks to Minnesota State forward Cade Borchardt (28) on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Mankato.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Hastings on the Wildcats

After last week’s semifinal win over Ferris State, Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings said the team had three goals this season: One, get home ice for the Mason Cup (checked); two, play for a regular season championship (checked) and three, try to win a playoff championship (TBA).

“So we've got that opportunity,” said Hastings, who has led the Mavericks into the Frozen Four the previous two seasons. “I think it's something that both Northern and ourselves are gonna take from (last Saturday’s) games, the one up in Houghton and the one here, that we've been in this spot before and so want to draw from that experience, but I think it's we're going to be we'll have our hands full.

“They're about as hot as a team as there is, scoring goals, power play, committing to defense. I think Grant does a fantastic job. They’ll be prepared and they'll be excited about coming into our building. So it'll be a tall challenge. But you know, we look forward to it.”

Flight check

Here’s some cool drone work produced by Jay Christensen of Sowder’s goal against Michigan Tech at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center.

Christensen, of JayByrd Films, also created the popular one-take drone shot of action at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis two years ago.


Rob Beer is the digital content manager for Forum Communications. A journalist with Forum Communications since 1991, he is the editor of The Rink Live and helps cover the CCHA. He also assists with other content produced by Forum Communications.
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