Winter Carnival Series Preview: Ferris State @ Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech (16-11-7) limps home from Northern Minnesota to take on the Ferris State Bulldogs (9-16-4) for the annual Winter Carnival. The Huskies’ final pursuit of the MacNaugton Cup effectively ended after being swept by first-place Bemidji State. They now reside at 27th in the Pairwise Rankings so if anyone thought Tech still had a glimmer of hope of an at-large bid, that dream is also gone. There is still quite a bit at stake, however, since Minnesota State only trails by six points with each team having four games to play.

Ferris State will arrive in Houghton having split the last two weeks with Bowling Green and Bemidji State, so they are likely feeling relatively good about their play lately. The Bulldogs also have plenty to battle for as they trail 5th-place Alaska by one point but also only hold a four-point advantage over 9th-place Northern Michigan. Missing the playoffs entirely is still a real possibility for FSU, so they badly want to spoil the winter’s best party.

Analysis

Michigan Tech’s Jekyll and Hyde year continued last weekend when they entered as the far hotter team playing much better hockey than Bemidji State. So, of course, they trudged home with exactly zero points and only two goals on the weekend. While they essentially never came close to winning on Saturday night, it is reasonable to say that they should have won on Friday. They held the lead twice and entered the third leading 2-1. They then surrendered two goals in the first six minutes en route to being outscored 6-0 in the final four periods of the weekend. MTU held Bemidji State to only 37 shots on goal combined on the weekend while taking 62 themselves, yet they came away with nothing.

The Huskies celebrate a goal against Ferris State on Oct. 31, 2015 (Photo credit: Bob Gilreath).

The Huskies celebrate a goal against Ferris State on Oct. 31, 2015 (Photo credit: Bob Gilreath).

The good news is pretty much no other team in the conference is likely to win games against MTU if they are outshot as badly as BSU was. The bad news is that the bid to the NCAA’s runs through Bemidji and Tech just proved they cannot win there even when they play exactly the game they want.

As for this weekend, I am looking for Angus Redmond to rebound from giving up six goals on 36 shots and for the offense to get back on track after the nation’s best defensive unit flexed its muscles against the Huskies. Sound familiar? This has pretty much been my rhetoric the last few weeks, with neither questions surrounding Redmond’s increasing vulnerability and the constant offensive problems going away. Every time I think this team has turned a corner, they lay an egg of some form. I truly have no idea what to expect from this team any given weekend as they clearly have strong talent and an elite defense. If it comes together, watch out, but it would be unwise to expect such.

Ferris State started the season 0-7-1, but have been exactly .500 since. They have been the masters of splitting series, having won and lost a game in six of their last nine WCHA series. They also have given all six points to their conference opponent only once all year—the first weekend of the season against UAH.

They are not fun to play against, and even less so now because of the emergence of a stud freshman goaltender of their own, Justin Kapelmaster. He holds otherworldly numbers in 14 appearance with a 1.99 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. The Bulldogs are, unsurprisingly, quite good with him in net: he holds a 7-2-3 record in his first year. His last outing was a 19-save shutout of the BGSU Falcons, and gave up half as many goals as Redmond did in their weekend battle in Bemidji earlier this month. The last thing the Huskies needed this week was to face another tough goaltender, but that is exactly what they are going to see.

Offensively, FSU is paced by senior forward Gerald Mayhew, who has netted 15 goals and 11 helpers. Unlike Michigan Tech, they get very little production from their defense: the blueliners have a combined eight goals on the season (to compare, MTU’s D has 26). Their offenses are nearly identical in total production, however, as Tech and Ferris sit 40th and 41st in the nation, respectively, in goals per game.

The last three matchups between these schools, all last season, were one-goal affairs. Most Tech fans will remember with depair the last game between the two. They faced off in the WCHA semifinals, a game in which the Huskies could not buy a goal and ended up losing 1-0, which ended their season. FSU would go on to win the WCHA tournament and upset #2 St. Cloud State in the first round of the national tournament, only furthering the disappointment of Tech players and fans who could easily picture the Black and Gold in that position. There should be no shortage of motivation for this MTU team to want to exact revenge on the team that ended their season 11 months ago.

Keys to the Game

  1. Channel the Winter Carnival energy. Normally, I would worry about last weekend’s disappointment seeping into this matchup and hurting MTU’s chances at picking up a pair of wins. This is the perfect time for the Carnival because the raucous and likely well-lubricated crowd will give this team the jolt they need. The Mac will be packed and loud, ready for the team to give them something to cheer about.
  2. Build off last weekend’s shot margin. Even though it did not work, I think the severe shot difference illustrates exactly what MTU wants to do when they are playing their best hockey. They should have won Friday, and a big piece of why is because they nearly doubled up the Beavers on shots on goal. The Huskies face another elite goaltender this weekend which is something they have handled terribly this year. I cannot say I think they have a real solution for that, but I think last week’s strategy might be the best one.
  3. Give Redmond a break. I defended ‘Beef’s’ usage in last week’s column, but I think now it is prudent to have him play a single game each of the last two weekends. As much as they still need points to hold off Minnesota State to secure home ice in the semifinals, they will not make use of that home ice if their best player is not at the top of his game. The team can help make that decision easier for Head Coach Mel Pearson by cruising on Friday night and giving Pearson the leeway to look to Wintjes or Kero on Saturday.

My Prediction

Let’s be honest, I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen this weekend. I am not sure that Michigan Tech is not one of the 15 best teams in the nation based on what I have seen from them at their best, but I am also not sure if they are better than Ferris State. These guys are impossible to peg, but I do know that they have only lost once at home this year and that they have won seven straight Winter Carnival games. I cannot pick a sweep, not based on how poorly they play against elite goaltending but I do not think they lose. On Friday, they will tie 1-1 (Tech wins in 3-on-3 OT to get the extra point). On Saturday, Michigan Tech wins 4-2. Friday’s game begins at 7:07pm Eastern and Saturday’s game starts at 5:07pm Eastern. Happy Winter Carnival!