Needing to be sharper: Tommies try to freeze hot Falcons 

St. Thomas’ Quinton Pepper tries to tuck the puck past Bowling Green goalie Christian Stoever during a game in January 2023 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — Around mid-February, races for the conference title and home ice in the playoffs heat up around the country, and this year, the St. Thomas hockey team is right in the thick of it in the CCHA. However, after their performance last weekend, the Tommies have some mixed feelings.

On the negative side, the then-first place Tommies took on league newcomer Augustana on the road last weekend and ended up getting swept by the Vikings. Since UST didn’t pick up any points, it dropped out of the top spot in the standings.  

“I thought our execution wasn’t as sharp as it’s been in the last few weeks,” Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said Monday. “It had a lot to do with what they were doing. Just playing hard and not giving us a lot of time and space to make plays.” 

St. Thomas’ Luke Manning battles Minnesota State’s Campbell Cichosz for the puck during a game Feb. 2 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

The good thing is the Tommies only trail first place Minnesota State by one point and with the Mavericks idle this week, UST could easily reclaim the top spot. The fact that the Tommies are in MacNaughton Cup contention at this point is impressive considering that they’ve been hit hard with injuries.  

“We’ve been playing like this for about a month and a half without these guys,” Blasi said. “We keep working hard and grinding out in practice and playing the games. Saturday night’s game could’ve gone either way. We got a power play in overtime, and we just didn’t execute, and they did. It wasn’t like we were getting outplayed or anything like that. So, for us, to continue to focus on the process and be positive and enjoy where we’re at and understand that we have probably the hottest team in the league coming in this weekend in our building and we’ve got to be ready to go.” 

St. Thomas’ Cooper Gay brings the puck toward the Bowling Green net during a game in January 2003 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

That hot team is the Bowling Green Falcons, who, after being grounded in their scrapes for most of the season, have finally taken off and started to soar. BG has swept its last two series and is currently tied for fourth place as well as the last home ice spot.  

“Ty (Falcons head coach Ty Eigner) has done a great job since he took over,” Blasi said. “They’re well-balanced, they play all four lines. They come at you in waves. They’ve got some of their injuries back and they’ve got some injuries as well. I think their goaltending is as good as anybody in the league and they’re hot right now. They’re playing really well and are confident. For us, we’ve got to play our game. In February, you’re not looking for the magic pill or anything like that. You’ve got to go out and play an honest game. And you’ve got to play right, and you’ve got to be on the right side of the puck, and you’ve got to win your battles, and be disciplined, and do the things that you need to do to be successful.” 

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday in Mendota Heights.  

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