Who: No. 11 Ferris State (13-3-2), Merrimack (7-8), No. 7 Wisconsin (11-5-2), No. 9 Yale (7-3-2)
When: Saturday, Jan. 2 and Sunday, Jan. 3
Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Tickets: Click here (new window)
Saturday’s games: Ferris State vs. Yale, 4 p.m. Central; Merrimack vs. Wisconsin, 7 p.m.
Sunday’s games: Ferris State/Yale vs. Merrimack, 4 p.m. Central; Ferris State/Yale vs. Wisconsin, 7 p.m.
About Ferris State
Every Bulldog fan is hoping that this Ferris State team is for real. FSU was the surprise CCHA team in the first half, having ended the year with six straight league wins and a third-place standing. Some might argue that the Bulldogs benefitted from a softer schedule to begin the year, but FSU tied league-leading Miami on back-to-back nights in Oxford, winning the ensuing shootout each night for good measure.
FSU has one standout forward this year, senior Blair Riley (14-7–21) who has already equaled his career-best goal total from 2007-08. Riley plays every aspect of FSU’s game; he has three power-play goals and two shorthanders. The rest of the FSU offense is capable as well, scoring mostly by committee.
Perhaps the real secret to FSU’s success is its incredible goaltending duo of junior Pat Nagle (1.59 goals-against average, .940 save percentage) and sophomore Taylor Nelson (1.72, .937). The Bulldogs have the second-best defense in the country, allowing 1.72 goals per game.
Not surprisingly, FSU has the best penalty kill in the country, effective 91.2 percent of the time — which is a very good thing, since these Bulldogs like to go. FSU averages 21.3 penalty minutes per game, second in the nation.
For a while this year, the Warriors led Hockey East in offense, and although recent attempts to tighten up the defense have dropped them to fourth with a 3.47 average, they remain a dangerous team with the puck.
The No. 1 weapon has been freshman Stephane Da Costa, who scored five goals in his first game and has recorded points in all but one game since.
Merrimack’s special teams have been very special this year. Its power play converts at a 25 percent clip and its penalty kill (84.6 percent) ranks second in Hockey East.
All that said, Merrimack’s results have been rather inconsistent. After winning six of seven games, the Warriors lost five of six going into the holiday break.
Wisconsin is a team that has been playing up to its potential this year. If its pre-break series against North Dakota is any indication, the team will continue to do so in 2010, and it’s hoping to kick things off by winning its 11th Badger Showdown title in the 21st and final year of the tourney.
Just like last year, the Badgers’ leading scorer is a defenseman; this year, the honor goes to junior Brendan Smith (8-18–26). Joining Smith in scoring are sophomore Derek Stepan (currently playing in the World Juniors) and seniors Blake Geoffrion and Michael Davies.
Defensively, the Badgers are fifth in the nation, allowing just over two goals per game (2.11), thanks to a corps led by Smith and fellow juniors Ryan McDonagh and Cody Goloubef. The Badgers’ defensive numbers are also helped largely in part thanks to the goaltending duo of juniors Scott Gudmandson and Brett Bennett, who have split time in the Badger nets.
The Bulldogs were the unanimous No. 1s in both the coaches’ and media’s ECAC Hockey preseason polls, but there were some early doubts as to this team’s voracity.
A somewhat stunning 2-2-2 record in its first half-dozen contests has given way to a much more palatable 5-1-0 run since, as the veteran group has shrugged off early-season tightness and the growing pains associated with breaking in a new goaltender.
That goalie is in fact four goalies, as though coach Keith Allain has put the starting job on top of a New Haven steeple and said, go get it. Freshman Nick Maricic has played more minutes (305) than his brethren, supporting a .908 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average. Senior and once-upon-a-time starter Billy Blase has played only 12 minutes of hockey this year, despite his experience.
Sophomore Brian O’Neill leads the Bulldogs with 16 points in a dozen games, but it’s third-year Broc Little who holds the team lead in goals (10), and rookie Andrew Miller is the tops in assists (11). On an offense averaging 4.33 goals a game, senior Sean Backman is one of six point-a-game Yalies with eight goals and six helpers. He is joined on that list by defenseman Thomas Dignard (11 points) and junior Denny Kearney (12), whom one ECAC Hockey coach stated is the best of the bunch.