Outside Ewigleben, the snow continued to pummel Big Rapids into arctic oblivion.
Meanwhile, the nation’s #4 hockey team quietly took the ice for their Tuesday night skate just beyond six p.m. that preceded a match up of titanic proportions.
On Wednesday, December 11, the Ferris State Bulldogs will travel to Ann Arbor’s historic Yost Arena for a road test against the nation’s #3 hockey team, the University of Michigan.
It’s an appropriately timed examination in the midst of exam week. Even hockey teams have to undergo big tests at this point of the season.
Ferris State is riding a nation leading 13 game unbeaten streak, during which they are 11-0-2, and 8-0-2 in conference play.
Despite the streak, the Bulldog’s looked wholly focused on the eve of their reunion with a former CCHA rival.
Head Coach Bob Daniels got straight down to business, talking fore-check strategy in front of the Ferris penalty box. There was no dramatic prelude for the Dogs, just routine work.
“Although it’s non-conference, it has a bearing on our RPI and national rankings,” Daniels said. “Our one true barometer is how we’re doing in the WCHA that’s important to us.”
RPI, or ratings percentage index, is a tool used by poll makers to determine how strong a team really is despite their record. It’s based on winning percentage, winning percentage of opponents, and winning percentage of the opponents of their opponents.
RPI is used to determine whether or not a team will get a chance to play in the National Tournament. Ferris is currently #4 in National RPI at .6074.
Ferris has gotten off to their torrid 13-2-2 start largely because their surge of secondary scoring. Sophomore forward Matt Robertson will enter the Michigan game having scored a goal in seven straight games, and eight overall.
“A lot of it’s because of my line mates,” Robertson said. “I’ve been lucky to play with guys at the top of their game.”
His 2013-14 production is 800% higher in the goal scoring column than it was last year, when he had just one goal all of last season.
“Realistically we’re getting a lot of production from three lines, and sometimes four with [Gerald] Mayhew,” Daniels said. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of depth on our team in scoring.”
Daniels was initially nervous that the team might lack offensive punch at the beginning of the season.
The formula for victory is to simply score goals and not allow them. Ferris is number five in the nation in team offense, and number 11 in team defense. Their 47 conference goals lead the next closest team, Bemidji State, by 10. Along with that, they’re sharing the wealth. Nine players have more than 10 points this season,
The battle reaches beyond the rankings, in one case it’s brother on brother battle. Michigan freshmen forward Tyler Motte will face off with his older brother, junior goaltender CJ Motte. Motte has a 13-0-2 record this season, and is the national leader among goaltenders in winning percentage.
Tyler Motte has five goals, and has played in every one of Michigan’s 13 games.
It is without doubt that a win on the road in one of college hockey’s larger venues could propel Ferris into the top three in next week’s national polls, and possibly to the number two spot.
It’s another big time program that the Bulldog’s will be charged to handle. 12 Wolverines are tied to an NHL team. Ferris does not have one.
That reality was offset in the most recent national poll, where Ferris received three first place votes. Michigan received none.
“We’re know they’re good and they’re fast,” captain and senior defensemen Scott Czarnowczan said. “We know how they play but when it comes down to it, it’s just another game.”
Last season, Ferris went 1-1-2 against the Blue, with two shootout losses. Their lone victory came at home in a 5-0 whitewash on Nov. 30.
The puck drops at Yost at 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 11.