Raise your hand if you thought Ferris State would be the first team in college hockey to reach 20 wins this year. If you raised your hand, you’re a dirty liar, or you are the mother of a Ferris State player… and you’d still be a liar.
It’s almost hard to believe it took this long for any team to get 20 wins, but far more difficult to fathom that it was the Ferris State Bulldogs, which didn’t win 20 all of last season, was the first to get there.
The Bulldogs have a grand total of zero NHL Draft picks on its roster and play in the same conference with perennial powers Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Miami and more. But little Ferris State, one of the teams that was left behind in realignment, soon to be part of the new mishmashed WCHA in 2013-14 is, as of right now, the best team in college hockey.
After sweeping Notre Dame over the weekend, Ferris State jumped into first in the Pairwise rankings, received 27 first-place votes in the USCHO.com college hockey poll, 20 first-place votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, retained first place in the CCHA and stretched its unbeaten streak to 12. Since the calendar turned to 2012, the Bulldogs have not lost.
Usually better known for the relative ease with which you can make Ferris Bueller jokes and its Saturday morning cartoon-looking logo, the Bulldogs have been playing good hockey all season long. Ferris won nine of its first 11 games largely on the backs of its spectacular goaltending tandem of Taylor Nelson and C.J. Motte. The current 12-game unbeaten streak came on the heels of three consecutive losses, Ferris State’s longest stretch without a win this season. So the team hasn’t only been good, it’s been consistently good.
According to KRACH, a highly intriguing computerized ranking system that changes with each game result, Ferris State has the 12th toughest schedule in the nation. So it’s not like Ferris has had it easy this year.
Head coach Bob Daniels has to be in the running for coach of the year, if not the favorite. He’s in his 20th year at Ferris State and has typically gotten the most out of his players in that span. In the extremely competitive recruiting landscape, Ferris State doesn’t often get highly-touted recruits, but always seems to quietly have at the very least a respectable season.
The Bulldogs’ best season came in 2002-03, when they won 31 games and claimed the CCHA regular season title. Ferris State is in the driver’s seat right now to claim another CCHA title, with four regular-season games remaining, at home against Bowling Green and a home-and-home with red-hot Western Michigan.
Ferris is one of the perceived have nots in the CCHA, one of the teams that would be left behind in realignment. In this highly contentious realignment landscape, the Bulldogs have shown they can not only hang with the big boys, but beat them. The CCHA will cease to exist after next season, but longtime conference member Ferris State is going out with a bang.
Ugly Hits Mar Friday Night Contests
There were four college hockey games on national TV Friday night, and three of those games included dangerous hits that resulted in game misconducts for the offending player.
In the night’s first game, on NBC Sports Network, Vermont’s H.T. Lenz leveled Boston College’s Barry Almeida with a hit that was deemed contact to the head. Lenz received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Then over on CBS Sports Network, Joe Basaraba hit North Dakota’s Nick Mattson a good distance from the boards. Basaraba got five and the game for checking from behind.
In the case of Basaraba, it wasn’t necessarily a hit from behind, the call should have probably been boarding. However, the distance to the boards is a big factor. It’s a dangerous play and one that was not necessary. Basaraba is known for being incredibly strong, but he needs to make a better decision in that situation. Mattson got his hands and head up when heading into the boards, thankfully. It could have been a lot worse.
In that same game, UMD’s J.T. Brown received a five-minute major for boarding after hitting Ben Blood from behind, at a pretty high rate of speed. (via Goon’s World)
A big factor in Brown’s infraction was speed. I think not giving him a game is probably the right call, but it certainly warrants a major, to at least send a message. J.T. Brown plays the game at 150 miles-per-hour, but in this instance he needs to make more of an effort to minimize the contact. It’s not quite a bang-bang play, but it’s close, which is why I think he may have avoided the misconduct (although the fact that the game was 46 seconds from ending may have also played a role in the lack of extra punishment). Either way, that’s a hit Brown could have or at least should have avoided.
Then, back over on NBC Sports Network, Minnesota’s Kyle Rau hit Denver’s Jason Zucker with a late and high hit. Rau received five and a game for boarding, and also was suspended an extra game by the WCHA.
This was a hit that elicited passionate debate. However, I feel the right call was made. The biggest factor for me is that it was completely unnecessary. Zucker had already dished the puck, leaving Rau enough time to at least minimize the contact. Instead, Rau’s hands got high and he followed through, leaving Zucker in a heap. Giving Rau an extra game may have been a little steep, but I don’t have a problem with it.
In my mind, you don’t punish the act, you punish the decision. Rau’s hit was late and overall unnecessary. Rau had enough time to avoid the hit, he didn’t need to explode through Zucker as he did. A bump, just to let Zucker know he’s there has the same effect without a penalty or injury. Had Rau made a better decision in that instance, he doesn’t hurt his team with a misconduct and a suspension, and Zucker doesn’t get injured.
There was a lot of debate on Twitter and in some blogs about the severity of the punishment for the hits. There were also many who wondered aloud if college hockey allowed fighting, would we see such devastating hits.
The answer to the fighting question couldn’t be more simple. Does fighting stop dangerous hits from happening in the NHL or Major Junior? Nope. Not in the least. The injurious hits still occur with stunning regularity in the levels of hockey that allow fighting.
Which is why I think in every case, the referees made the right decisions on these hits. Because there is no fighting, the players can’t police the game themselves (which is fine because the players are terrible policemen). It’s always been the referees job to police the games and by delivering swift and strong punishment for all of the offending players listed above, the refs took control of the situation. In short, they did their job.
Perhaps with the suspensions and strong penalties on the ice, more players will think twice before making poor decisions that may result in the injury to opponents. The speed of the game will always lead to injuries, but checks particularly like Rau’s can be avoided.
It’s not often the referees get praised in college hockey, but this time, I think they deserve credit for getting it right.
One of the great traditions in college hockey is the Beanpot Tournament. To the surprise of no one, the Beanpot championship will pit Boston College against Boston University tonight at the TD Garden in Boston.
The game is only available on NESN, so unless you’re in NESN’s viewing area or have a dish that gets NESN, you won’t be able to see it. It’s too bad, really. This game will feature two of the better teams in this very average college hockey season. It will also feature a bevy of top prospects like BC’s Chris Kreider, Brian Dumoulin, Bill Arnold and John Gaudreau, and BU’s Adam Clendening and Matt Nieto.
As is often the case, there’s so much more on the line than the Beanpot itself. Though the game will not have any impact on the Hockey East standings, it’s a huge test for both of these teams battling for position in the Pairwise. BU currently sits second in the only rankings that matter for NCAA tournament placement, BC ranks tied for fourth. If BC finishes the season strong, there’s a good chance the Eagles leapfrog the Terriers nab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This game should also help determine if BU is for real or not. Despite being a highly-ranked team, the Terriers have been up and down the last few weeks, which has included a series sweep at the hands of Maine and a loss Friday night to UMass.
BC has underachieved mightily this year, but the Eagles are riding a four-game winning streak coming into tonight’s contest.
When these two rivals get together, it always brings loads of excitement and often displays what college hockey is all about.
NHL.com has a great Beanpot final preview to get you primed up for tonight’s game.
Austin Smith scored two more goals last weekend to extend his national lead to 32. There isn’t another player within 11 goals of the national leader. Meanwhile, Maine’s Spencer Abbott owns the most points in college hockey with 49. Here’s a look at the national leader board.
Jon Merrill is still one of the best NHL prospects playing in college hockey. He’s made a huge impact on Michigan since returning from his suspension, putting the Wolverines right back into the CCHA title hunt. The New York Times takes a look at what Merrill has meant to the Wolverines since coming back and how he’s learned from his suspension.
This isn’t necessarily college, but it warrants sharing.
Alex Mason, of Detroit Lakes High School in Minnesota, scored one of the most daring breakaway goals I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t in a skills competition, it wasn’t in practice. It was in a real game, with his team shorthanded no less!
Before you go making long hair jokes, Mason is a Native American, and lives on the White Earth Reservation. He takes his heritage very seriously, but chose to go to Detroit Lakes to help his hockey career. A little YouTube fame won’t hurt either. What a goal.
Hockey Weekend Across America begins Friday, but we’ll be starting the HWAA coverage tomorrow on United States of Hockey with a preview of the weekend’s events, as well as some details on what you’ll find on USofH throughout the week leading up to what has become USA Hockey’s signature annual event.