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CCHA playoffs begin with Minnesota State in title defense, others fighting to advance

Minnesota State, the six-time defending regular season champs, have the top seed and face Lake Superior State. Here's an in-depth look at all the matchups this weekend.

012823.N.BP.LIFECOVER MH 1 - 012823.S.BP.BSUMHKY Eric Martin.jpg
Bemidji State junior Eric Martin (11) leaps to avoid Northern Michigan goaltender Beni Halasz (30) during the first period on Jan. 20, 2023, at the Sanford Center. The two teams meet in the Mason Cup playoffs beginning Friday, March 3.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

After a wild weekend where the MacNaughton Cup came down to the wire, the CCHA’s Mason Cup playoffs begin on Friday with the top-four seeds hosting the remaining four teams in a best-of-three series.

Minnesota State, the six-time defending regular season champs, has the top seed and faces Lake Superior State, which finished eighth in the league. Michigan Tech hosts St. Thomas, Bowling Green hosts Ferris State and the two teams that fought for the last home-ice slot has Northern Michigan hosting Bemidji State.

The Mason Cup champion earns an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. Michigan Tech is 11th and Minnesota State is 15th in the PairWise Rankings, which try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA committee to select the 16 teams for the national tournament.

The Mason Cup playoffs continue with the semifinals March 11 and the championship March 18, all single-game elimination.

A look at the quarterfinal matchups:


Minnesota State's Andy Carroll keeps his eyes on the puck as St. Thomas' Josh Eernisse gives chase during a game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023 in Mendota Heights.
Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live

Lake Superior State at No. 13 Minnesota State

Lake Superior State hasn’t won a game at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center since 2019 and is 2-15-1 at the Mankato rink. But when there’s a chance to beat MacNaughton Cup champion Minnesota State, the Lakers are at least playing their best hockey of the season.

The Mavericks, last season’s NCAA runner-up, raised the Mason Cup playoff championship trophy twice last season. Rewind your memory to last March when a controversial goal ended an overtime game 2-1 in favor of Minnesota State against Bemidji State on the Mayo Ice. The celebration took place, the goal was reviewed, then overturned and play resumed about an hour after the fans left the arena.


MSU leaders: 

  • Goals: David Silye 21 (tops in CCHA)
  • Assists: Akito Hirose 22
  • Points: Silye 35
  • Top goaltender: Keenan Rancier 1.86/.915

LSS leaders:

  • Goals: Roy Harrison 12
  • Assists: Jacob Bengtsson 22
  • Points: Bengtsson and Louis Boudon 23
  • Top goaltender: Ethan Langenegger 2.18/.914

Records: MSU 21-12-1, LSS 9-23-2

Goals per game: MSU 3.2, Opp 2.1; LSS 2.0, Opp. 3.3

PP%: MSU 26.9%, LSS 15.7%; PK%: MSU 81.6%, LSS 73.4%

Game times (CT): 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday and 5:07 p.m. Sunday (if necessary)

Prediction: Mavs in two

Slotted 15th in the PairWise, winning the Mason Cup might be the only way Minnesota State can earn a ticket into the NCAA tournament.

"We have to turn the page in a hurry because the next one's up and if it doesn't get done this weekend, you know ... " Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings said on the Maverick Hockey Live Podcast . "Yes, this last weekend happened and it can't be taken away, which I think is unique about a championship. And some of the things that have happened in that building are pretty crazy. But now we've got to turn the page and start writing a new chapter."
Now the focus is on No. 13 Minnesota State getting through the surging Lakers. Of their nine wins this season, the Lakers have won five since Jan. 28, including a sweep of Ferris State to end the regular season.

The Mavericks have won nine of the last 10 matchups against the Lakers with a total-goal margin of 29-8 with four shutouts.

“Over my career we’ve been able to make this place a hard place to play in,” Mavericks senior defenseman Andy Carroll told The Reporter, the Minnesota State campus newspaper of playing at Mayo. “Yes, we haven’t won as many games this year as we could’ve but we look forward to keeping this place a hard place to play in.”

The Mavericks’ power play is one of the nation’s best, scoring at a 26.7% clip to rank fourth among Division I teams. The Mavs’ power-play units have a goal in 11 of their last 14 games with a total of 15 goals.


Mavericks junior forward David Silye leads the CCHA in goals with 21 and has 35 points after a 17-point season a year ago.

The Mavericks are tied for 14th in the nation with 3.2 goals-per-game and that’s a huge factor for the Lakers, who are 0-20-1 this season when allowing more than three goals. Additionally, the Lakers are just 5-20-1 when allowing a power-play goal.

Questions about the Mavericks season, especially after losing 50-point producer Nathan Smith and Hobey Baker-winning goaltender Dryden McKay, were raised after a 3-3 start and December sweeps at Mayo by Ferris State and Bemidji State. Since that series loss to the Beavers on Dec. 16, the Mavericks went 11-3 to finish the season.

In the net, sophomore Keenan Rancier (15-9-1) had just 10 saves in two games last season, but has fashioned a 1.86 goals-against average this season (tied with Cornell’s Ian Shane for second-best in the nation behind Quinnipiac’s Yaniv Perets) and has allowed a maximum of three goals just six times this season and just twice since Jan. 1.

“At this time of the year we need good goaltending and we need guys to step up,” Hastings told The Reporter. “This is the time of the year when things happen in a hurry and I think the guys are super excited for that opportunity.”

The Lakers are led by junior forward Harrison Roy, the former Boston College player, who has 12 goals on the season after scoring seven a year ago. Senior forward Louis Boudon and junior defenseman Jacob Bengtsson are tied in points with 23 with Boudon being the team’s active scoring leader with 113 points in 137 career games.

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St. Thomas' Mack Byers skates hard to the net and tries to make a move around Bemidji State goalie Mattias Sholl during a game Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Mendota Heights, Minn.
Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live

St. Thomas at No. 11 Michigan Tech

No. 11 Michigan Tech battled Minnesota State for the MacNaughton Cup on the last day of the regular season. For a team that was picked fifth in the CCHA preseason coaches’ poll, having that No. 11 ranking is even higher than last season’s No. 14 finish which helped the Huskies earn an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. So what’s different?


Put simply, it comes down to seven-time CCHA Goaltender of the Week and three-time Goaltender of the Month Blake Pietila.


Tech leaders: 

  • Goals: Kyle Kukkonen 16
  • Assists: Ryland Mosley 19
  • Points: Mosley 31
  • Top goaltender: Blake Pietila 1.95/.930

St. Thomas leaders: 

  • Goals: Mack Byers 16
  • Assists: Ryan O’Neill 17
  • Points: Byers 24
  • Top goaltender: Aaron Trotter 2.98/.905

Records: MT 22-9-4, UST 11-21-2

Goals per game: MT 2.8, Opp 2.1; UST 2.4, Opp 3.3

PP%: MT 14.5%, UST 16.5%; PK%: MT 87%, UST 77.7%

Game times (CT): 6:07 p.m. Friday, 5:07 p.m. Saturday and TBA, Sunday, if necessary

Prediction: Huskies in two

Statistically, the senior is his usual self, with a 1.95 GAA and a .930 save percentage, certainly on par with his career numbers (1.94 and .925). But throw in nine shutouts, including a 2-0 win last Friday to make it a winner-take-all finale in Mankato, and that will be St. Thomas’ puzzle to solve in this best-of-three series.

“It's fun, you know, they're obviously one of the top teams in the country for a reason. He's a big part of that,” Tommies coach Rico Blasi said this week.

The Tommies are led by junior forward Mack Byers and his 16 goals and 24 points. The other five St. Thomas players with 20 or more points are freshmen: Josh Eernisse (21), Lucas Wahlin (21), Luc Laylin (20) and Ryan O’Neill (20).

The Huskies have three players with 20 or more points as junior Ryland Mosley leads with 31, followed by freshman Kyle Kukkonen (24) and senior Logan Pietila (21).

The Tommies went 1-3 against Pietila and the Huskies this season, winning 3-2 in their last meeting at the 4,466-seat MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton with just 21 shots on net. An earlier 4-3 win against the Tommies had Pietila making just 15 saves.

“Tech's really stingy,” Blasi said. “Blake's a great goalie, but they play good, hard team defense. So we have to be ready to battle and sacrifice.”

That includes getting his team to buy into creating space and getting into the nasty areas, something Blasi said for a young team has to be learned.


But it’s coming. Blasi pointed out this week — even after an 11-win regular season in the team’s second year of Division I play — that the Tommies are playing better hockey.

“The first 14 games were tough,” he said. “We got St. Cloud, Penn State, Alaska — all teams that are going to make the (NCAA) tournament — so we needed to grow quickly. The last 20 games, I think you saw the maturity of our team coming together.”

Bowling Green forward Tyrone Bronte (5) fights for position with Bowling Green defenseman Dalton Norris (14) in front of goaltender Christian Stoever on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023 in Houghton, Mich.
Contributed / Michigan Tech Athletics

Ferris State at Bowling Green

It’s not a home game for Ferris State, Bulldogs head coach Bob Daniels knows that. And certainly after the nearly 4,500 fans rocked the Slater Family Ice Arena last weekend for Bowling Green’s season finale against Northern Michigan, the Falcons faithful probably won’t supply the warmest of welcomes.


Bowling Green leaders: 

  • Goals: Austen Swankler 18, Nathan Burke 17
  • Assists: Swankler 24 (tops in CCHA)
  • Points: Swankler 42 (tops in CCHA)
  • Top goaltender: Christian Stoever 2.88/.914

Ferris State leaders:

  • Goals: Jason Brancheau 11
  • Assists: Blake Evennou 14, Stepan Pokorny 14
  • Points: Pokorny 20
  • Top goaltender: Noah Giesbrecht 3.08/.906

Records: BG 15-17-2; FS 12-18-4

Goals per game: BG 3.2, Opp 3.2; FS 2.5, Opp 3.5

PP%: BG 22.5%, FS 13.%; PK%: BG 83.7%, FS 77.9%

Game times (CT): 6:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4:07 p.m. Sunday

Prediction: Falcons in three

But Daniels knows this. Bowling Green is just a four-hour drive from Big Rapids, Michigan.
“We'd rather be at home, I'll start with that. We really would, but if it can't be at home, Lake State and Bowling Green are the two closest in proximity to us,” Daniels said after his team — in hindsight — needed a sweep but instead got swept by Lake Superior State for a chance to get home ice in the CCHA playoffs.

It’ll be the eighth time these teams will meet in the CCHA’s postseason tournament. Ferris State had the edge this season 2-1-1.

Ferris came away with a 2-1 win and a 4-4 tie at Slater the last time these teams met. That series however, included four roughing penalties and a combined 20 penalties.

“Last time it turned into a physical series with them when we were there,” said Ferris State freshman defenseman Andrew Noel, who said during an interview this week that the Bulldogs were able to feed off the visiting crowd.


But Bowling Green students go on spring break on Monday, so whether Slater is rocking for the quarterfinals as it was in the Northern Michigan series will be determined.

Daniels said the Bulldogs must manage the puck and limit turnovers at the blue line against Bowling Green.

“When it comes down to playoff time, it’s the guys who are going to buy in and play the right way for 60 minutes or however long it takes and that’s going to be the team that comes out successful that night,” Noel said.

For Eigner, it was the first time since 2013 his team (15-17-2) finished below .500. The last Daniels-coached team to finish above .500 was in 2015-16 when the Bulldogs advanced all the way to an NCAA regional final.

The Falcons, who went on a six-game winning streak that continued into the calendar year, hope to regain their footing. Down the stretch, both teams won just one game in regulation in its last seven contests.

“We’re going to have to limit the mistakes and do a good job getting through them because they will try to force us into some difficult spots and some turnovers and try to go the other way,” Eigner said last weekend. “So we’re going to need to be disciplined. It will be a good opportunity to see if we can bounce back after this week.”

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Bemidji State freshman Lleyton Roed (29) moves the puck up the ice during the first period against Northern Michigan on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, at the Sanford Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Bemidji State at Northern Michigan

With home ice on the line last weekend, Northern Michigan’s seniors stepped up in a pair of 4-2 wins over Bowling Green. Call it clutch. Call it veteran savvy.


Of the eight goals, seven were scored by seniors — with junior Kristof Papp scoring the lone underclassman goal on Friday.


Northern Michigan leaders: 

  • Goals: David Keefer 14 (Vanderbeck 13)
  • Assists: Andre Ghantous 22
  • Points: Ghantous 33
  • Top goaltender: Beni Halasz 2.40/.913

Bemidji State leaders: 

  • Goals: Lleyton Roed 13
  • Assists: Elias Rosen 24
  • Points: Roed 30
  • Top goaltender: Mattias Sholl 2.13/.913

Records: NM 18-16-0, BSU 14-15-5

Goals per game: NM 3.2, Opp 2.8; BSU 2.6, Opp 2.6

PP%: NM 24.5%, BSU 25%; PK%: NM 84.7%, BSU 80.4%

Game times (CT): 6:07 p.m. Friday, 5:07 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (if necessary)

Prediction: Wildcats in three

“Number one, you're going to go as far as your seniors take you. As the calendar turns, we need a bunch of guys to be Mr. March,” Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny said this week.

Northern Michigan, 6-1 in its last seven contests, will host Bemidji State in the CCHA quarterfinals. It was a rapid turn of events as the Wildcats won the second tiebreaker to earn home ice over the Beavers.

Bemidji State enters as the conference tournament runner-up a year ago, losing to a controversial finish to Minnesota State in overtime.

The two teams have met just once in postseason play, a 2-1 Bemidji State victory in the 2016-17 WCHA Playoffs at the Sanford Center.

Beavers freshman Lleyton Roed has 30 points on the season and had a career-high four points in a split against St. Thomas last weekend. When scoring three or more goals, the Beavers are 12-0-1 on the season, but have only hit that number four times in their last 16 games.

Potulny said he is trying to turn the Wildcats into a “process-based team,” and the results, especially after a late-season series drubbing of Ferris State by a combined 17-5 score, are continuing to show.

“I think we’ve been getting better every weekend and we didn’t get the results early that we wanted, but we’re getting them,” he said.

Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said he is very cognizant of who they’re playing.

“They’re playing the way they’re capable of,” Serratore said. “This team is maybe the most talented team — for sure up front, maybe the most talented team in our league that I picked for second place in the preseason. They’ve got a lot of octane and, you know, they're feeling it. They're dialed in, whatever you want to call it.”

Northern Michigan freshman forward Joey Larson and goaltender Beni Halasz have also produced this season. Larson is fourth on the team in points (24) and Halasz is fourth in the league in goals-against-average at 2.40 and has two shutouts.

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Potulny’s squad split each series with Bemidji State this season and he’s been impressed by senior blueliners Will Zmolek, Kyle Looft and Elias Rosén.

“Very good speed by their forwards, they hardly take any penalties,” Potulny said. “They’re a good team defensively and they have three defensemen on their team that play major, major minutes.”

Rosén, one of the team’s alternate captains, said the team’s leadership is emphasizing the importance of this weekend to the underclassmen, saying you have to be ready to put all the emotion out there and leave nothing to chance.

“I feel like it's on us as leaders, and Tom and of course,” Rosén said. “But at the end of the day, they have to be ready and we know we can do it .. we have seen a lot of times we can play playoff hockey when we want to and we just have to have to want it this weekend.”

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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