Michigan Tech (7-6-4) comes off of their break to play a home series against the Ferris State Bulldogs (8-9-1). The last time we saw the Huskies, they were sweeping Alaska in Fairbanks, picking up a desperately-needed six points. Now, they face an FSU team that took care of business this past weekend at home against Alaska Anchorage by winning both games. This is the first of two series this season between Michigan Tech and Ferris State (the second being at the end of January). The last time they faced each other was last season’s Winter Carnival, when each team picked up a win.
The Huskies begin the middle part of their schedule with some very winnable home games against Ferris and Lake Superior State. As we outlined in the mid-season review, these are vital points at stake considering MTU’s tenuous spot in the WCHA. Ferris State is also in need of some points as they attempt to chase down teams like Northern Michigan and even Michigan Tech in hopes of picking up home ice for the best-of-three first-round series.
Ferris State has been consistently inconsistent this year, never winning more than three in row but never losing more than two in a row. This is a team that has struggled mightily to score: they have the 11th-worst offense in the nation. Still, they have averaged four goals per game over their last four games, so they have played some better hockey since Thanksgiving. They will not be a pushover this weekend.
The Bulldogs are led by senior forward Mitch Maloney, whose 12 goals are tied for 4th in the nation. This is really a breakout season for him, considering he scored 12 goals all of last season and had only 19 goals in his career entering the 2017-18 campaign. With no other Bulldog scoring more than four goals this year, Maloney is the guy that the Huskies will need to plan to stop.
On the other side of the ice, FSU has had goaltending issues of its own. For the second straight year, junior Darren Smith and sophomore Justin Kapelmaster have split time as neither has found a way to capture the starting role. Kapelmaster played both games against MTU last season, and Smith was the goaltender when Ferris State shut out the Huskies in the 2016 WCHA playoffs. Kapelmaster has had the better play of late and was the winner of both UAA games last weekend, meaning he has probably earned the start on Friday night.
Ferris State brings a special teams unit to Houghton that needs quite a bit of help. Their 15% power play has been a serious burden on their offensive production. Their 80% penalty kill, while better than Tech’s 78% kill, has not done a lot to help them win games. There is not any distinct advantage for one team in this area as neither has had much success on special teams. Look for Michigan Tech to build on their penalty kill’s perfect weekend in Alaska, something that can definitely be achieved against Ferris State’s inept power play
Keys to the Game
- Win the offensive battle. These two teams have identical defensive numbers, but Michigan Tech scores half a goal per game more than Ferris State. Tech needs to take advantage of its depth of talent at the forward position.
- Lock down Mitch Maloney. This is one of the most gifted scorers in the nation, but he is doing it mostly alone. With so few threats in the maroon and gold this weekend, there is no excuse to let this one player beat the Huskies. Keeping him off the scoresheet is the simplest way to hamstring the FSU offense.
- Get an important month off to a good start. Over the next 30 days, the Huskies have four conference games, the GLI and the Ice Vegas Invitational. A lot will be learned about this team before they head into the stretch run of the WCHA schedule. That all begins Friday night, where a good result is really important.
One never really knows how a team will play coming off a break. Unfortunately, it will have been so long since the Alaska series that any of that momentum has effectively faded. MTU is likely the better team this weekend, but I get the feeling that we will be seeing a split. FSU wins Friday 4-1, MTU wins Saturday 3-2.