Mason Cup clincher: Northern Michigan University Wildcats, Minnesota State-Mankato to decide CCHA playoff title tonight

Northern Michigan University forwards Vincent de Mey, left, and Connor Marritt, right, battle Minnesota State-Mankato’s Riese Zmolek for the puck along the boards in the Wildcats’ offensive zone during the first period of their WCHA game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Jan. 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

Tonight: NMU at Minnesota State-Mankato, CCHA Mason Cup playoff championship, 7:07 p.m. EDT; Radio: WUPT 100.3 FM The Point


MARQUETTE — Though it’s a tall task tonight, the Northern Michigan University hockey team may have a “secret” advantage facing Minnesota State-Mankato in the CCHA Mason Cup playoff championship game.


It’s been assumed by some that the Wildcats won’t get an at-large bid to the NCAA Division I tournament, though the case could be made that their current seven-game winning streak should make them easily one of the 16 best teams in the country right now.

Northern Michigan University forward Brett Willits moves the puck up ice as Minnesota State's Chris Van Os-Shaw, bottom right, gives chase during the first period of their WCHA game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Jan. 3, 2021. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

But it’s quite possible that NMU (21-16-0) will have to grab the league’s automatic bid to make the big tournament.

The Wildcats and their fans won’t have to wait too long after tonight’s game to find out either if or who they play in the NCAA tourney, as the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Selection Show is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sunday and will be televised on ESPNU.

On the other hand, Minnesota State-Mankato as the CCHA regular season champion and sporting a record of 24-12-1 will probably make the national event regardless of tonight’s outcome.

The winner of this 7:07 p.m. EDT game, hosted by the Mavericks in Mankato, Minnesota, gets to hoist the Mason Cup, named for legendary college head coach Ron Mason, who coached for many years at Lake Superior State, Bowling Green State and Michigan State universities.

All-time, Mankato enjoys a 25-8-3 advantage over Northern, including three wins in their four games this season.

The teams split in Minnesota in mid-November, NMU winning the opener 3-2 in overtime before Mankato came back for a 4-1 victory, then in Marquette in early January, the Mavericks won 5-2 and 5-3.

In addition, these teams have split two games in conference tourneys in the past two years, both games played in Mankato. In the WCHA semifinals in 2021, NMU won 5-1, while in the CCHA semifinals in 2022, the Mavs won 8-1.

Tonight’s game will be broadcast on the Wildcats’ home radio station, WUPT 100.3 FM The Point. And fans can follow the team @NMUHockey on Twitter, or go online at the NMU athletics website, nmuwildcats.com, under the hockey team schedule for links to live statistics, video and a game preview.

Last Saturday night, Northern extended its current winning streak by adding a victory in the CCHA semifinals with a 4-0 win at Michigan Tech. Northern freshman goalie Beni Halasz made 44 saves, including 19 in the second period and 10 during four penalty kills for his third shutout this season.

Like their 1-3 record against Mankato this season, the Wildcats had lost three of four to the Huskies before the playoffs began.

In the semifinals game against Tech, though, they scored three times in the first 12 minutes, adding a late empty-netter for the final margin. Twin brothers Rylan Van Unen and Michael Van Unen each scored during the early flurry, Rylan’s the game winner as the opening goal scored 4:44 in.

Between the Van Unen goals, All-CCHA Second Team honoree and senior Andre Ghantous scored a power play goal, while junior defenseman Simon Kjellberg added the empty netter with exactly two minutes left.

Minnesota State won its semifinal game, also last Saturday, 7-2 over No. 6 seed Ferris State after spotting the Bulldogs the first goal. The Mavericks’ Jake Livingstone had four points, including a goal.

David Silye leads Mankato for the season with 23 goals and 39 points in 37 games, while Livingstone paces the Mavericks in assists with 26. Goalie Keenan Rancier is 18-9-1 with a 1.80 goals-against average and .916 saves percentage.

Nationally as a team, the Mavs are No. 1 in their power play percentage of 28.9% and faceoff win percentage of 59.6%. They’re also tied for second in goals allowed per game at 2.0, tied for third in fewest penalty minutes per game at 7.7, sixth in goals allowed with 75 and 10th in goals scored with 123.

But Minnesota State is also second worst nationally in shorthanded goals allowed with seven.

Sliye is second in power play goals nationally with 12 and third in goals with 23, while Rancier is third with his GAA.

In the most recent series against Mankato, the sweep at the Berry Events Center to begin the second half of the Wildcats’ season on Jan. 7-8, the teams were tied at the end of each of the first two periods on Friday before the Mavs scored three unanswered goals in the third, two coming on power plays.

Connor Eddy and David Keefer scored NMU goals in the opener, while Silye had two power play tallies for Minnesota State.

In the Saturday game, Michael Colella made it the first goal of the game for Northern for the second straight night, scoring just 2:15 in. But Mankato answered with three in a row, two by Brendan Furry, before NMU’s Kristof Papp and Alex Frye scored in the second half of the second period to pull the home team within a goal each time.

In the end, Livingstone scored the only goal of the third into an empty net late for the two-goal difference.

In national rankings, Aiden Gallacher leads the country in blocked shots with an even 100, while AJ Vanderbeck is tied for second in shorthanded goals with three and fifth in shots on goal with 144.

Also, Michael Van Unen in third in blocks with 84, Keefer tied for fourth in game-winning goals with five and tied for 42nd in goals with 15, Artem Shlaine 20th in faceoff wins with 378 and Ghantous tied for 22nd in assists with 25 and tied for 23rd in points with 38.

Team-wise, NMU is tied for second in shorthanded goals with eight, third in faceoff win percentage at 55.2%, fifth in penalty kill percentage at 85.5%, seventh in power play goals with 35, eighth in shooting percentage at 11.8%, tied for 10th in goals per game at 3.3, 12th in power play percentage at 23.6% and tied for 13th in goals with 121.

Here are some other tidbits of information also gathered together by NMU Sports Information:

• Since Jan. 20, Northern has had the best penalty kill in the nation, posting a 94.4% success rate of 54 kills in 57 opportunities, along with scoring four shorthanded goals to boot;

• In the Wildcats’ seven-game win streak that began Feb. 17, Ghantous is tied for best in the nation in power play goals with four, tied for third in points with 13 and tied for sixth in goals with seven;

• Also for NMU in that last month,

Gallacher is tied for second nationally in blocked shots with 20, while Michael Van Unen is tied for fourth with 19;

• And in the seven-game streak, Keefer is tied for second in game-winning goals with two, while Shlaine is tied for 11th in faceoff wins with 84;

• Of goalies who have played at least seven games in the last month, Halasz is first in wins with seven, tied for first in assists with one, second in saves percentage at .938, tied for third in shutouts with one, third in goals allowed with 13, fourth in goals-against average at 1.86, sixth in saves with 197 and tied for seventh in shots faced with 210;

• Team-wise during their win streak, Northern is first in goals per game at 5.4, tied for first in wins with seven, goals scored with 38, shorthanded goals with two, second in faceoff win percentage at 58.7%, second in penalty killing at 93.1%, tied for second in blocks with 139, tied for fifth in power play goals with nine, tied for fifth in power play percentage at 33.3%, sixth in saves percentage at .938 and 11th in goals allowed per game at 1.9.

• Vanderbeck with three assists and Michael Van Unen with two goals and an assist are both on three-game point streaks;

• NMU has a 9-0-0 record when leading after one period and 11-0-0 when leading after two, along with a 6-2 mark in one-goal games and a perfect 4-0 in a combined three-on-three and five-on-five overtimes;

• When scoring first, the Wildcats are 14-5-0, as opposed to 7-11-0 when the opponent scores first. They are 19-3-0 when scoring three or more goals, while only 2-13-0 when scoring two or fewer.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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