Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Ferris State

This week's Know Your Enemy entry represents an opponent the Engineers should be quite familiar with when they face off against them in Minnesota come the first weekend in January. After all, it'll be the third consecutive season featuring a game between the Engineers and the head coach's alma mater after a 13-year separation between the teams' first meeting.

Ferris State
Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: Big Rapids, MI
Founded: 1884
Conference: WCHA
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2012
Coach: Bob Daniels (22nd season)
2012-13 Record: 16-16-5 (13-12-3-1 CCHA, 5th place)
Series: Ferris State leads, 3-1-1
First Game: January 23, 1998 (Big Rapids, MI)
Last RPI win: October 12, 2012 (Troy, NY)
Last FSU win: October 15, 2011 (Big Rapids, MI)

2013-14 game: January 3, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN)

Key players: D Scott Czarnowczan, sr.; F Justin DeMartino, sr.; F Andy Huff, sr.; F Cory Kane, sr.; F Garrett Thompson, sr.; F Justin Buzzeo, jr.; D Simon Denis, jr.; G C.J. Motte, jr.; D Jason Binkley, jr.; D Brandon Anselmini, so.; D Zach Dorer, so.; D Connor Schmidt, so.; F Tyler Andrew, fr.; D Ryan Lowney, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
There's practically nowhere to go but down from playing in the national championship game - the only improvement in 2013 would have been an actual national championship. That wasn't in the cards for Ferris State, who finished off their 35th and final season in the CCHA with a respectable 5th place finish but featured a bumpy finish in February and March as they were unable to reach the last CCHA Final Five.

The Bulldogs now pick up and move to the radically changed WCHA, where they have the potential to be one of the top teams in the coming seasons. Although Ferris State had a positively middling season last year, their overall showing was better than anyone else in the "new" WCHA with the exception of Minnesota State, the only team from the reconstituted conference that reached the NCAA tournament last season.

A major factor in Ferris State's inability to build on their epic 2012 season were early season injuries to Czarnowczan and top-returning scorer Matthew Kirzinger, two players that were expected to be key cogs in the Bulldogs' game. Kirzinger has graduated, and Ferris additionally loses their top two scorers from last season, Kyle Bonis and Travis Ouellette. That puts pressure on guys like Thompson, Kane, and DeMartino to pick up some of the scoring slack.

A healthy season for Czarnowczan and the rest of Ferris State's defense - all of which returns - could bode well for the Bulldogs' defense, still backstopped by Motte, who had a couple of tough-luck outings against the Engineers last season after blanking them for his first collegiate shutout in his freshman year.

This is a Ferris State team that could have the chops to compete for a WCHA title if they find the scoring touch they'll need - and they have options on that front. This is still a team with half of its roster having the experience of playing for a national championship, and as they move to a new conference, they look ready to put in another solid season.

There are four dynamics that change things considerably from the last two seasons that the Engineers and Bulldogs met. First, it's a neutral site game. Second, it's just one game rather than two. Third, it's taking place in January rather than October, so both teams should at least be into the swing of things. Finally, Ferris State is likely to get a look at Jason Kasdorf for the first time if he's healthy.

Might just be homerism here, but lean toward the Engineers to be the favorite in this game - looking at it before the season gets underway, of course. They should be plenty dangerous on their own, but if the Bulldogs pick up the scoring they need early in the season, this could be a barnburner.

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