Six games remain in Ferris State hockey’s inaugural season in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and the playoff picture is beginning to formulate.
The Bulldogs magic number is down to nine, whcih means they must capture nine of the possible remaining 12 points to clinch the regular season WCHA title.
On Valentine’s Day, the Bulldogs felt the love from Big Rapids as they became the first team in the conference to clinch home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Their 4-1 victory over the Bemidji State Beavers on Feb. 14 in Minnesota pushed them to their 34th point of the season, which guarantees they will finish in the top four of the conference.
Secondary scoring has been a major factor in the Bulldogs reaching their sixth 20-win campaign in the Bob Daniels era.
On this year’s roster, 13 players have reached double-digit points. Of those 13 players, four are defensemen, three are freshmen and six are underclassmen.
“We do have good secondary scoring,” Daniels said. “I am a little concerned about our primary scoring right now.”
Though top-end scorers Garrett Thompson, Justin Buzzeo, Kyle Schempp and Matt Robertson have quieted down following hot starts, they are being buoyed by the players beneath them on the score sheet, which has helped them reach their goal of a first-round home ice playoff series.
While it is now clear the nation’s No. 6 ranked Bulldogs will play a best-of-three series inside the Ewigleben Ice Arena on March 14-15 (16 if necessary), it is not a forgone conclusion they have won the regular season conference title.
The Bulldogs failed to sweep the Beavers, losing 2-1 on Feb. 15 inside the Sanford Center.
On that night, the formerly second place Minnesota State Mavericks were wrapping up an effortless sweep of the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers in Mankato to tie the Bulldogs at the top of the conference.
If the season were to end today, the Bulldogs would finish second in the conference due to the fact they were swept by the Mavericks, which gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
In the WCHA playoffs, the first round consists of the top eight conference teams, with number one playing number eight, the second seed playing the seventh seed, the third seed playing the sixth seed and the fourth seed playing fifth seed.
Ferris State would play the Bemidji State Beavers, who are currently the seventh place team, if the playoffs were to start today.
The Mavericks have played two more games than the Bulldogs, which means Ferris could be as many as four points ahead of Minnesota State by the end of the Mavericks’ week off.
Since four points separate fourth place from ninth in the conference, the playoff picture is nowhere near solidified. The only known facts are that the Mavericks and Bulldogs will host a first-round playoff series, and Alabama-Huntsville’s season is over following the regular season.
One issue the Bulldogs face with their home playoff series is that it falls on the last weekend of Spring Break.
Daniels showed concern for projected attendance prior to the series finale at Bemidji State.
“I’m proud of the fact that we know now that we’re going to host in that first round,” Daniels said. “I know it’s going to fall during our break week; I’d like to do whatever I can with our fans to encourage them to come out.”
Daniels has praised the Dawg Pound as the best home ice advantage in college hockey, which US College Hockey Online agreed with in a recent story, and the Bulldogs have followed up on. Ferris is 10-1-1 on their own ice this season, and undefeated in their last 11 in Big Rapids.
“The reason we want to have home ice is the advantage our fans and our students give us,” Daniels said. “We’ve got the best record I think in college hockey at home this year in terms of winning percentage right now, and there’s a reason for it; it’s our fans. We really need them to jump on board and come out to support the team because they are a big part of our success.”
Home ice in the first round gives Ferris fans one last chance to see the 2013-14 Bulldogs in Big Rapids before they continue their journey towards a possible berth in the national tournament.”
“You tell your players one of our big goals is to get home ice in the first round,” Daniels said. “And it falls on deaf ears if you go out there and we don’t have anyone in the rink.”
Of the Bulldogs’ remaining six games, four are at home in Big Rapids and two are at Alaska (Fairbanks). Minnesota State has a road date with ninth place Lake Superior State before wrapping up at home with fourth place Michigan Tech.
The Bulldogs are 9-2-1 against Michigan Tech, Bemidji State and Northern Michigan, who represent the bottom three playoff teams as of Feb. 19.
Ferris will take on the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves for the first time as members of the WCHA on Feb. 21-22 at Ewigleben Ice arena in Big Rapids. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:07 p.m.
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