What happened last weekend?
The Michigan Tech Huskies, picked to finish as high as third in the preseason Western Collegiate Hockey Association polls, have had two weeks to prepare for their second WCHA series as they were off again last weekend. In the one series the Huskies have played this year, they won both games at Lake Superior State.
The then-No. 4 Ferris State Bulldogs trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes Friday night at St. Lawrence. The Bulldogs jumped ahead 2-1 midway through the third period. The Saints forced overtime, but Chad McDonald won the game for the Bulldogs 1:39 into the extra frame. On Saturday night, the Saints got the lead 4:30 into play and never looked back, skating to a 2-0 victory and a series split.
What have the Huskies been up to during this long break?
While you cannot realistically simulate game situations, head coach Mel Pearson and his staff have done their best to try to do just that. Heavy teaching practices that usually occur early in the season have given way to up-tempo pacing and hard-hitting drills, which seemed to promote hard-skating and crashing opposing defensemen in the offensive zone.
That does not mean all teaching was abandoned, however. Pearson and his staff set the team to task last week on playing stronger in their own end. He believes the hard work paid off.
“I like the way we’ve practiced,” said Pearson. “We’ve done a lot of drills. It is hard to do those drills in practice because it is the drudgery. But they have bought in. We have learned some things. I think we have made some good strides in that area.”
How do you beat Ferris State?
The Bulldogs have jumped out to a good start to the season with victories over Michigan and St. Lawrence. However, as the Saints proved last Saturday night, they are vulnerable under the right circumstances.
“You make them play without the puck,” said Pearson. “I think we have to play in their zone and force them. You have to play them five on five. We are going to have limit their scoring opportunities.”
Last season, the Bulldogs’ undersized blueline corps could be exposed by teams who crashed the offensive zone hard. To compensate for their relative lack of size, the Bulldogs quickly developed a tough, smothering defensive scheme.
“The way they play, they swarm you,” said Pearson. “They layer it so that if you beat one guy, there is a second guy there to help out.”
Scouting the Bulldogs
The Bulldogs have started the season 2-1-0 thanks to strong play from senior goaltender C.J. Motte and sophomore forwards Chad McDonald and Kyle Schempp.
“They are good,” said Pearson. “They know how to win. It all starts with C.J. Motte.”
Motte has started all three games, sporting a 2.33 goals against average and a 92.9% save percentage. He won the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week for his play against the Wolverines.
McDonald leads the team with three goals, two of which are game-winners. Schempp is one of two skaters with one goal and three points.
The Bulldogs are waiting for junior Kenny Babinski and senior Justin Buzzeo to break through offensively. Babinski has two assists so far, while Buzzeo, who scored 32 points last season, has none through three games.
Both games this weekend start at 7:07 p.m.