Team of the Week: Ferris State
Upcoming Games Against Old CCHA Rivals Loom Large
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Moving into a new-look WCHA was not something many old CCHA teams may originally have wanted when college hockey's new landscape was coming together. But on the plus side, it opened the door for one of those teams to dominate in ways it wouldn't have previously been able to.
For this year, at least, that team has been Ferris State.
Last weekend's sweep of Lake Superior State extended Ferris State's unbeaten streak to 13 games. The Bulldogs have won games in several different fashions since their last defeat Oct. 18 against St. Lawrence. These most recent wins earned them College Hockey News' Team of the Week, but it's the mindset that the team brings to each weekend that has made the a favorite in their league and nationally thus far.
Going 11-0-2 in 13 games requires contributions from every part of a roster. Recently, sophomore Matt Robertson has been the catalyst for the FSU offense with a goal in his last seven games. Senior winger Garrett Thompson has been a source of a consistent production for the Bulldogs.
Nine players have at least 10 points for FSU through its first 17 games of the season.
Yet despite the success, which has the Bulldogs eight points clear of second-place Minnesota State in the WCHA standings and fourth in the Pairwise, FSU coach Bob Daniels know his team has areas to improve upon.
"We're happy with where we are right now. We've had some pucks finding the back of the net for us, and our guys have had some good starts," Daniels said. "But there's some concern within our staff about the number of chances we're giving up. Looking back at last weekend, we had some problems late in games that led to a little more heartburn than I would've liked.
"In general, we've allowed too many scoring chances in games. I haven't been too concerned with our own shot totals, but the number of shots against is a concern. In terms of our own shots, I think a lot of it has to do with puck management, especially late in games. Once we get some pucks to go in and get a lead, we aren't as good with the puck as we have to be."
That will certainly be necessary to improve upon when the Bulldogs face old rival Michigan this Wednesday, in what may not be huge for the conference standings, but nevertheless looms large in the national picture.
The positive for Daniels and his club is that this group, like the Frozen Four team in 2011-12, understands it must get better as the season goes. Even as shot totals pile up against FSU and it allows a few more chances than Daniels would prefer, the play of junior goaltender C.J. Motte has proved a constant bright spot. In 15 appearances, Motte has a 2.31 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Neither of these numbers is particularly impressive compared with the leader in the country. However, Motte, like every other Ferris player, is moving toward being at his best as the season progresses.
According to Daniels, Motte, now in his second year as the No. 1 in Big Rapids, is better prepared to lead a successful team than he was a season ago. It's a similar path taken by both Pat Nagle and Taylor Nelson, who were all-American goaltenders for Ferris State in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
"A few years ago, we had Pat Nagle and Taylor Nelson who were back-to-back all-American goaltenders for us," Daniels said. "C.J. sat a lot as a freshman, playing under Taylor. We were always very high on him. I think last year, C.J. learned a lot about how to prepare for playing back-to-back nights and how to win consistently at this level. He's going to play a lot of games for us. He's been very good, and he'll need to be better."
Apart from the rivalry developed with Michigan, Wednesday's matchup is also a chance for Motte to play against his brother, Tyler, who is a freshman at Michigan. The brothers are from St. Clair, Mich., which is about 200 southeast of Big Rapids and 100 miles northeast of Ann Arbor. Both have enjoyed strong campaigns thus far, Tyler has scored five goals and assisted on two more for a Michigan team that's quickly emerged as a contender within the Big 10.
It's not uncommon for brothers to play against each other in college hockey. However, the Motte brothers being on opposite ends of a rivalry like this one doesn't happen every day. Michigan, the nationally regarded athletics powerhouse, versus Ferris State, the little school few outside of the state or college hockey have heard of. Regardless, Wednesday's game will be a most important meeting for all parties included.
Ferris State follows it up with another game against an old league rival, Michigan State on Saturday.
Even with the unbeaten streak and an already successful first half, the Bulldogs wins haven't come against the best competition. Between this week's game and a visit to Minneapolis for the Mariucci Classic in a few weeks that comes with games Rensselaer and either Colgate or Minnesota, the Bulldogs are likely to have plenty of chances to prove themselves in the coming weeks.
"These next few games against Michigan and Michigan State are important for us," Daniels said. "We're used to playing against these teams. I don't expect them to be any different because they're non-conference games. Our guys know Michigan. They know how they play.
"I really don't want to pay much attention to the Pairwise right now. We know where we are in it, but we have a lot of work to do. These next games against Michigan, Michigan State, RPI and then either Colgate or Minnesota. These are all good teams."
The teams within the WCHA aren't exactly bad teams. They do not offer the same talent level as the clubs coming up on Ferris State's schedule. Winning its league convincingly and mixing in a few wins over other teams likely to earn NCAA Tournament bids will help Ferris build a strong resume.