By Robert Desimone for WCHA.com
On the heels of its first-ever conference tournament title and hoisting the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA Final Five champions, Ferris State advances to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past five seasons. The Bulldogs travel to the West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., where they will play the regional No. 1 seed (and overall tournament No. 2 seed) St. Cloud State on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT / 3 p.m. ET. The winner advances to the Regional Final on Sunday at the "X", and will face the winner of Saturday's second semifinal matchup between Denver and Boston University.
Ferris State won the Broadmoor Trophy and earned the WCHA's automatic bid into the 16-team NCAA Tournament after upending league regular season co-champions Michigan Tech and Minnesota State on successive nights – including a 2-1 win over the Mavericks in Saturday's championship game at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. Gerald Mayhew scored the championship-winning goal late in the second period on a penalty shot, while freshman goaltender Darren Smith made 13 saves en route to Final Five MVP honors. Over the weekend, Smith allowed just one goal on 44 shots, including 30 saves in Friday's 1-0 semifinal victory over Michigan Tech.
Saturday marks the first game this season between Ferris State and St. Cloud State, and Bulldogs' Head Coach Bob Daniels is well aware of the top-seeded Huskies' scoring depth.
"Generally during the course of the year I'll catch other teams play, but I have not seen them at all this year so I have minimal exposure to them. I have learned that they have tremendous depth in scoring, more of a line 1A and 1B, but beyond those two lines they have tremendous depth in all lines for scoring."
St. Cloud State's balanced attack enters the game second in the nation in scoring at 4.28 goals per game. Senior forward Kalle Kossila leads the team and is fifth in the nation with 52 points (14g-38a), while the Huskies' offense also includes two 20-goal scorers in senior Joey Benik (22g-24a) and sophomore Patrick Russell (20g-21a).
But the Huskies' depth in scoring is not unlike Ferris State, who enters the game with 13 players in double digits, including four blue-liners: Sean O'Rourke (4g-8a=12pts), Ryan Lowney (2g-11a=13pts), Simon Denis (7g-7a=14pts) and Brandon Anselmini (2g-14a=16pts). Leading scorer, junior forward Gerald Mayhew, has 36 points (14g-22a) on the season and has been on the scoresheet in 14 of the past 18 games.
"Obviously that line with Mayhew will be important, but like St. Cloud State, we do have depth to our scoring too. I don't think we'll have to lean on one guy or one line," said Daniels. "Last weekend Gerry [Mayhew] scored a big goal for us, but there are other players. Kenny Babinski, a senior forward, scored the game-winner on Friday; Brandon Anselmini scored a goal on Saturday. We can kind of manufacture goals from a variety of different areas as well."
Defensively, St. Cloud State boasts Hobey Baker Award top-ten finalist, senior Ethan Prow, and junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Prow leads the nation in scoring among defenseman with 37 points (8g-29a), while Lindgren is tops in the NCAA with 39 starts and 30 wins, along with a .927 save percentage and five shutouts.
"I figured a team that scores goals at the rate they do, defense may not be first and foremost, but they are a very good defensive team and I am really impressed by that." Daniels added. "They play very solid defensive hockey, they're very well coached, and very well organized. They have a plan and stick to that plan, obviously for them to be a #2 seed in the nation they're going to be a very good hockey club."
Defensively, Ferris State enters the NCAA Tournament allowing 2.54 goals per game for the season, but ranks third nationally by allowing just 1.25 goals per game this postseason (five goals in four games). Leading the way is Smith, who is tops among NCAA rookie goaltenders with his 1.25 playoffs goals-against average. For the season, Smith is 16-9-5 with a .923 save percentage, 2.15 GAA and three shutouts – tying the school freshman record.
Ferris State freshman goaltender - and Final Five MVP - Darren Smith with WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson
Smith's calm personality in net, combined with a solid core of juniors and seniors, have his team primed to make a run in this year's NCAA Tournament.
"For us we do have some pretty good experience to lean on," said Daniels. "Two years ago we played in the Regional Final and lost in double overtime to North Dakota, and we have quite a few players that were around for that experience. It will be really important that the younger guys take the lead from the veterans, and not get too enthralled with the big stage. I don't think that will happen, as we're a pretty experienced group."
For Daniels though, it's not just experience for the players that help on the big stage. The bench boss, now in his 24th season at Ferris State, is leading the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time – including a trip to the 2012 National Championship game (also played at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., site of the 2016 Frozen Four).
"One thing I've really learned over the years is you can't change a lot because the game is big," Daniels commented. "You have to go through your normal practice. All of a sudden because it's a bigger stage and there's a little more on the line, you can't try to coach differently, or guys will sense it. We want to play the same as we always play, so I try to avoid coaching or behaving differently."
With that said, Daniels also recognizes the importance of the NCAA Tournament and says it helps to embrace the bigger stage, and not shy away from the increased attention.
Ferris State fans celebrate junior forward Gerald Mayhew's penalty-shot goal in the 2016 Final Five Championship game.
Fearful was not a characteristic Ferris State showed last weekend in defeating McNaughton Cup co-champs Michigan Tech and Minnesota State to claim the Broadmoor Trophy. After Saturday's contest, Daniels referred to a good feeling he had heading into the playoffs, a feeling he hopes will continue as the Bulldogs prepare this week and look to make another run in the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm more of a process guy, the style we play has been well engrained in us all season. This time of the year there's not going to be a lot of changes by us, and I doubt they will either. Really just point out certain tendencies to the guys and some adjustments we'll make in the game, but it won't be much anything different than how we played last weekend."
At this point in the season, Daniels knows it is about believing in that process and drawing upon those previous experiences. With each coming game comes a bigger stage, but that doesn't faze Daniels in his preparation and he stresses that the bigger the game, the better off you are keeping things simple.
"Hopefully the players can know that while it's a big stage, its nothing more than hockey. There's a net at both ends, scoreboard in the middle, and officials on the ice, so let's go."
Keys to the Game:
- St. Cloud enters the game ranked second in the country on the power play at 28.9%. This season, Ferris State is 15-5-1 when scoring on the power play, while posting a 2-9-5 record when held scoreless. The Bulldogs are also 5-7-2 when allowing a power-play goal, and 12-7-4 when holding its opponents scoreless.
"We have a real appreciation for the power play, so with that said we're going to try and hammer home the easiest way to kill is to not get on it," Daniels said. "We don't need to be killing seven or eight power plays, we need to minimize the exposure to their power play and kind of take everyone's word that they're really good and maybe not see it."
- Ferris State is 13-3-3 this season when scoring three-or-more goals. A big reason why is Bulldogs' freshman goaltender Darren Smith, who ranks 20th nationally with a 2.15 goals-against average (and tied for 18th with a .617 winning percentage).
- Following a loss in the semifinals of the Mariucci Classic on Jan. 1, Ferris State has gone 11-5-2 for a .667 winning percentage that is 14th-best nationally during that span.
- After his Broadmoor Trophy-winning goal on Saturday, junior forward Gerald Mayhew now has eight goals (four game-winning strikes) and four assists for 12 points in 13 career playoff games for Ferris State. The last time the Bulldogs played in a Regional Semifinal (2014 Midwest Regional), Mayhew scored the game's only goal for a 1-0 win over Colgate.
- Ferris State freshman forward Corey Mackin received the 2015-16 WCHA Rookie of the Year Award and was also named to the All-Rookie Team. Mackin led WCHA freshmen during league play with 21 points (9g-12a), and has 23 points (9g-14a) overall this season.
- In his 24th season, Ferris State Head Coach Bob Daniels is the winningest coach in program history. Daniels led the Bulldogs to its first WCHA Regular Season Championship in 2013-14 and an Elite Eight Appearance in the NCAA Tournament, while receiving WCHA Coach of the Year honors. He also led the program to the 2012 NCAA Championship Game, and was previously honored as the 2002-03 Coach of the Year (Inside College Hockey and March of Dimes West Michigan Sports Awards) after posting a 31-10-1 overall record that year.