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Hockey Preview: Ferris State Bulldogs

Last tune-up before outdoor hockey at Comerica Park

Streeter Lecka

This weekend, the Spartans end the first half of their season with a Saturday home game against Ferris State University. The Spartans are coming off a decent weekend, with a shootout victory and close loss to the top ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Spartans continued to get strong freshman contributions, with Villiam Haag and Mackenzie MacEachern scoring three of the four goals in regulation. Jake Hildebrand had his best weekend of his sophomore campaign, stopping 79 shots on the weekend and earning 2nd star of the week in B1G Hockey. After playing the top ranked team in college hockey it' s rare to say things may be getting tougher, but that may be the case this weekend for the Spartans.

The Bulldogs of Ferris State University come to East Lansing as the hottest team in college hockey. Unbeaten in 14 games the Bulldogs have rocketed to 4th in the national polls, and lead the WCHA standings by 8 points. The Bulldogs have a top ten defense, averaging only 2.28 goals against per game. Combine that with their 3.67 goals for per game and it is easy to see how they have started the season 13-2-3. This is the last chance for the Spartans to continue to improve offensively before the Christmas break, and before playing outside at Comerica Park in the Great Lakes Invitational.

#4 Ferris State Bulldogs 13-2-3 (10-0-2 WCHA, 1st)

Time/TV: 7:05 P.M. at Munn Ice Arena and will be broadcast on Comcast. (Saturday)

Radio: Spartan Sports Network

Website: Ferris State Hockey

Special Events: This game is the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Game and will honor former Spartan coach Ron Mason. Mason was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame last week. Also, this is the teddy bear toss game. Fans are encouraged to bring teddy bears to donate and throw onto the ice after the Spartans' 1st goal. All bears will be donated to children's charities in the Lansing area. Can we top the 25,000 bears thrown at the WHL's Calgary Hitmen game?

Coach: Bob Daniels, a Michigan State graduate, is in his 22nd season behind the bench for the Bulldogs. Daniels has a 363-380-87 career record. Ferris has been a program that has been cyclical in the last decade. Every 3-4 years a strong senior class is able to lead the Bulldogs to league championship contention and NCAA berths. This includes an appearance in the 2011 championship game, a game the Bulldogs lost to the Boston College Eagles. With the new conference alignment in college hockey and Ferris going from the CCHA to WCHA, appearances in the NCAA tournament may be more consistent.

Players To Watch: The Bulldogs roster consists of a core of four strong defensemen, including Jason Binkley, who have been a large part of the Bulldogs hot start. While lacking the offense of recent graduates Chad Billins (Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffin) or Zach Redmond (Winnipeg Jets) the Ferris defenseman have been integral to a top ten defense. Of course, having a good defense is easy when you have a goaltender like C.J.Motte between the pipes. Motte is 13-0-3 this season with a .925 save percentage. At forward watch out for top goal scorer Garrett Thompson and Matt Robertson. Robertson has 8 goals including two game winning goals and three power play goals. Thompson has 9 goals and 20 points after scoring 11 goals each of the last two seasons.

Keys For MSU

  1. Time of Possession- While the weekend against Minnesota was successful in the outcome it was far from perfect. For long stretches of play the Gophers held the Spartans in their own zone, including whole periods with only 3 shots on goal for the Spartans. Against a strong defense this weekend, the Spartans will have to increase their zone possession numbers and win the shots on goal category
  2. Jake Hildebrand- This game will be low scoring. Hildebrand had his best outings of the year last weekend, and will probably need to be that strong again this weekend. Going against another top goaltender in Motte will be competitive for Hildebrand and he probably needs to hold the Bulldogs to 2 goals or less.
  3. Discipline- I used this same key against Minnesota last weekend, but when you have a below 80% penalty kill, discipline will always be key.

Prediction: While the Ferris unbeaten streak is impressive and includes tough road victories, it does have some downfalls. Most of the wins have come against teams under .500 with the most impressive wins being their last two, against Lake Superior State. Ferris played Michigan to a 2-2 tie (shootout loss) at Yost Ice Arena Wednesday and that is their most impressive game this season. I expect Hildebrand to continue building off of last weekend and keep the Bulldogs under the 3 goal mark. I say Michigan State builds on last weekends confidence and gets goals from Greg Wolfe, Haag and MacEachern and wins 3-2.

Around the B1G: There are only three games in the conference this weekend. Besides the Spartans game against Ferris State Saturday, Wisconsin will host former WCHA com-padre Colorado College.

Bonus Video: This week the Spartans unveiled the jerseys they will wear for the Great Lakes Invitational at  Comerica Park. The jerseys are a 1966 throwback, a season which ended with an NCAA title.