After splitting on the road at Lake Superior State, the Michigan Tech Huskies look to continue the second half of their Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) schedule by traveling once again. This time, they will face the WCHA-leading Ferris State Bulldogs, who just saw their nation-leading 16-game unbeaten streak broken by Colgate last weekend during the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis, Minn.
What happened last weekend?
The Huskies traveled to the Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie and at first appeared poised to blow the Lakers right off the rink. After grabbing a 1-0 lead however, the bubble burst, and the Huskies found themselves trailing 3-1 before the period ended. They would battle back to even the game, only to lose on a goal a little over midway through the third. On Saturday, the Huskies fell behind early, but fought to grab the lead in a 2:06 span in the second. The Lakers would tie it, but assistant captain Tanner Kero regained the lead for the Huskies late in the third en route to the win.
“We are doing a lot of good things right,” said head coach Mel Pearson after Friday night’s game. “But we need everybody, all 18 players and the goalie need to show up and play. We’re not getting that full contingent of everybody playing mistake-free.”
The Bulldogs opened the Mariucci Classic in typical style this season, scoring twice each period in ripping Rensselaer, 6-2. Sophomore Matt Robertson led the way with two goals and four points in the victory. Despite all that offense Friday night, the Bulldogs found it hard to gain any skating room against the Raiders on Saturday. The Raiders held the Bulldogs to just 19 shots on goal and kept them off the scoreboard entirely in a 3-0 victory.
Center is where it’s at
With the return of junior David Johnstone to the Huskies’ lineup over the weekend, Pearson and his staff moved co-captain Blake Pietila back to center for the first time since the beginning of the season. Pietila responded with a three-point weekend.
Friday night, Pietila proved his ability to play the position started with faceoffs as he cruised to a 16-for-21 performance, giving the Huskies ample opportunity to start with the puck more often than not. Saturday was not quite as strong as he went 13-for-25, but that was still nearly twice as many wins as the next closest Huskies’ center.
Furne, baby, Furne
After suffering through a three-game slump without a point, senior winger Ryan Furne notched a goal in each game last weekend. He also added an assist on Saturday night, giving him three points for the weekend and his first two-game point streak of the season.
The Oakdale, Minn., native has been a notoriously slow starter since his sophomore season, but while his point production is down from a season ago, 0.36 this year as opposed to 0.56 last season, the veteran forward has been very important to the Huskies’ success in WCHA action.
In 13 conference games, Furne has five goals and six points. More importantly, he is +5. Only freshman center Mike Neville has a better plus/minus in WCHA action with +8.
Sturos-ing the pot
Freshman Reid Sturos also had a strong weekend for the Huskies against the Lakers. In the two-game series, the youngster notched three assists, earning him Freshman of the Week honors from the WCHA.
After playing in just four of the Huskies’ first 14 games, the towering winger has played in 11 straight games and now appears to be firmly entrenched in the lineup. Still looking for his first career goal, all four of Sturos’ points have come in WCHA action.
His play without the puck was a bit disconcerting for Pearson and his staff early in the season, but given that he is now +1 in WCHA play, he has proven to be a quick study of how the staff wants him to play.
A deeper look at the Ferris State Bulldogs
Going into last weekend, the now-No. 3 Ferris State Bulldogs could have argued that they should have garnered more attention from the voters picking the nation’s top team each week. After losing 3-2 to St. Lawrence back on Oct. 18, the Bulldogs rattled off an impressive streak, winning 13 of 16 as they rocketed to the top of the WCHA standings. When they finally faltered, it was against the Colgate Raiders, a team they had already split with earlier in the season.
The Bulldogs have quietly rolled with the nation’s seventh-best offense, having scored five or more seven times during that impressive unbeaten streak. A pair of upperclassmen lead the way. Senior Garrett Thompson is tied for the lead in goals (10) while leading in points (22). Junior winger Justin Buzzeo has been equally impressive, scoring nine goals and 21 points. Freshman Kyle Schempp is making his bid for WCHA Rookie of the Year having netted seven goals and 17 points.
The Bulldogs’ team defense flies under the radar a little bit, as they average 2.19 goals against per game. Junior netminder C.J. Motte sports a 2.18 goals against average, which is just slightly better than the Huskies’ Pheonix Copley’s 2.21. However, Motte is 15-1-3 on the season.
Both game at the Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena will start at 7:07 p.m. The Bulldogs have already announced that they have sold out Saturday night’s contest (2,490 seats).