Trying to keep pace: Tommies to battle Beavers in key series 

St. Thomas’ Matthew Gleason and Bowling Green’s Tommy Pasanen race to the puck in the corner of the Falcons zone during a game Feb. 16 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — There are two weeks left in the regular season and the St. Thomas men’s hockey team is in rough shape.

Not when it comes to the CCHA standings as the Tommies are tied for second place with Minnesota State and Bowling Green, and they’re just two points behind first place Bemidji State. They’re in rough shape due to injuries and were dealt another tough blow with the loss of forward Cooper Gay to a season-ending injury during Friday night’s tie with Bowling Green.  

When injuries start to pile up, sometimes locker rooms can lose spirit, but UST head coach Rico Blasi says that isn’t the case with his squad.  

“It’s a process,” he said Monday. “No matter what we go through, whether it’s good days or bad days, it’s part of this process that we’re building. Every day, we have an opportunity to get better and every day we have an opportunity to push ourselves to continue to live the way we need to live to play within our identity. The locker room is good. There’s not a lot of guys in there, but what we have, at this time of the year, you’re not really saying much. You’re trying to get better every day and be ready to play on the weekend.” 

St. Thomas’ Mack Byers tries to get the puck past Bemidji State goalie Mattias Sholl during a game last February in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

UST is coming off a weekend where it only managed one point against a hot BG team and now has to face the relatively healthy Beavers in a series that could determine the final MacNaughton Cup contenders. The Tommies were swept by Bemidji back in October, but Blasi said the Beavers are probably a different team than the one they faced four months ago.  

“I thought when we were there in late October, they took it to us the first night,” he said. “Second night was a closer game. It could’ve gone either way. They executed a couple more plays than we did. I would say that they’re probably the most complete team in our conference. That’s why they’re in first place. They’re deep, they’re skilled, well-coached. Good goaltending. Very good special teams. There’s a reason why they’re in first place. Are they any different? They’re probably different. They’re probably a lot better than they were back in October. You have to be that way if you’re going to be in first place with two weekends left. I would say they’re probably much more confident and a well-balanced team. They’ve got all their injuries back. It’s going to be quite a challenge for our team this weekend and there’s always lots on the line at this time of the year.” 

St. Thomas senior Ryder Donovan waits for a pass from teammate Liam Malmquist during a game against Minnesota Oct. 13, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

Saturday is Senior Night for the Tommies and they have a few guys who will be moving on after the end of the season. When asked about what his senior class has meant for the program, Blasi said he’d rather talk about them later, but he did say that they impacted the culture created at UST.  

“The group has really helped us establish who we are as a program right now and who we’re going to continue to be here in the future,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that are running through my mind about the group. Some of them have been with us from the beginning. Some of them showed up here lately and helped us continue to move forward. Both are equally important to our process of building our Division I team. I’m proud of them. I love them. Other than that, they’ve got some hockey to play still, so we’ll leave it at that.” 

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

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