Weekend Preview: #4 Miami at #19 Ferris State
Miami travels to Big Rapids to battle the Bulldogs
Another week, another road test against a ranked opponent.
It doesn’t get any easier for the youthful Miami RedHawks (4-1-1, 1-1 CCHA) this weekend as they travel to Big Rapids, Mich. to take on the national runners-up from a season ago, the #19 Ferris State Bulldogs (2-2-2, 1-1 CCHA).
Last weekend, the Bulldogs split a home series with Alaska winning 6-3 on Friday, but dropped Saturday’s finale 3-2. Sophomore goaltender C.J. Motte stopped 76 shots on the weekend, the most for a Ferris goaltender in a two game weekend set since 1992. The shots on goal is significant because Ferris is notorious for clogging the neutral zone and passing lanes. Historically, the Bulldogs have simply collapsed down low to protect their goal – a tactic that has frustrated even the best Miami squads. In doing so, Miami has struggled against FSU despite holding a slim 44-42-16 advantage all-time against the Bulldogs. In fact, dating back to the 2007-08 season, Miami is just 3-6-4 against Ferris including one win at Joe Louis Arena in the CCHA consolation game at the conclusion of the 2009-10 season. Under head coach Enrico Blasi, Miami is 16-11-6 against the Bulldogs but was swept last year in Big Rapids and are winless in four straight at FSU, last winning January 16, 2010 (source: MURedHawks.com).
Offensively, the Bulldogs saw a large chunk of scoring leave campus with the loss of Jordie Johnston and his 20 goals to graduation. Looking to pick up the scoring slack, FSU is led by senior captain Kyle Bonis (4-3-7) who netted 19 goals last year, super pest and senior Travis Ouelette (1-3-4) and junior center Cory Kane (2-4-6). Bonis, who has seen his share of battles in this rivalry, netted two goals in Friday’s 6-3 win over Alaska and has generally performed well against the RedHawks throughout his stellar career in Big Rapids.
The Bulldogs blueline also lost quite a bit from last year’s Frozen Four squad. Gone are last year’s team captain, Chad Billins, Brett Wysopal and Aaron Schmit who accounted for 53 points between them. And, Billins was an instrumental cog in front of departed senior goaltender Taylor Nelson as they led Ferris to the national title game a year ago. Accordingly, the Bulldogs are breaking in or expanding the role of three young defensemen, Simon Denis, Jason Binkley and Travis White. Denis has provided an immediate spark as he has already surpassed last year’s goal total (1 in 30 GP) with two goals in his first six games this year.
In net, you can feel pretty good about seeing sophomore C.J. Motte both nights. Last year, Motte was one of the best freshmen goaltenders in America posting a 5-5-2 record with 1.98 GAA and .925 save percentage backing up senior Taylor Nelson. Motte, who was highly regarding entering college, has started this year strong. His numbers show a 2-2-2 record, 2.57 GAA and .908 save percentage. He will provide a stiff challenge for Miami, but at least initially, it appears the Bulldog defense is still adjusting to new names in new places meaning the RedHawks should be able to get plenty of rubber on the St. Clair, Mich. native.
For Miami, the RedHawks enter the weekend with a 4-1-1 record after splitting a pair at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Offensively, the squad continues to be led by super sophomore Austin Czarnik (3-5-8), who was named the CCHA’s Player of the Month for October and freshman linemate Riley Barber (4-4-8), who was the recipient of the CCHA’s Rookie of the Month award for October. Sophomores Blake Coleman (4 goals) and Cody Murhpy (1-3-4) have also contributed as Miami appears deep and talented, but young, in the early stages of the season.
Senior captain Steven Spinell has done a tremendous job leading the very young Miami blueline and I have been particularly impressed with the play of freshmen defenders Chris Joyaux and Matthew Caito. Both have jumped in and provided shutdown minutes immediately. If Miami verbal commit Matt Joyaux is supposed to be the “better” of the two brothers, the blueline is set for the next few years with the USNDTP’s Trevor Hamilton also scheduled to come to campus soon.
The unsung hero thus far in the season has been freshman goaltender Jay Williams who was called upon on short notice last week with the injury to fellow freshman Ryan McKay who started Friday’s game, but left after just 4:59 making one stop on one shot against. Williams stopped 30 shots while allowing four goals on Friday night as he kept his team in the game. And, on Saturday, he stopped 37 of 40 Wolverine shots earning his first collegiate road victory as the RedHawks won 4-3. It will be interesting to see if McKay plays this weekend or if the coaching staff will be cautious with him so early in the season. Williams has been very good so far registering a 3-1 record with a 2.77 GAA and .909 save percentage. If McKay can’t go, Miami should be in good hands with Williams on both nights.
Like last week, these will be Miami’s final games with Ferris at Ewigleben Ice Arena as conference mates as the CCHA completes its final season of existence. Next year, Ferris State will join the WCHA along with four other CCHA schools while Miami moves to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:05pm EST and can be heard (hopefully) on 1490-AM and Miami All-Access via MURedHawks.com.
To win this weekend, Miami will have to use their speed to counter Ferris’ trapping system. Dumping the puck at the blueline and making it do the work will be key to beating the Bulldogs defense. Miami should have a speed advantage, but mustn’t stay so true to its puck possession game to allow FSU to overwhelm the puck carrier resulting in neutral zone turnovers and odd-man rushes the other way. And, making Motte move around with crisp passes while causing havoc in front of him will enable Miami to get good looks at the sophomore.
This Miami team seems oblivious to some of the falls of prior teams. Some of that comes with youth, but the RedHawks speed and overall offensive talent, including the ability to roll three truly offensive lines, gives them an edge. Still, Ferris has been very good at home and Ewigleben has been a very difficult place for Miami to play. I would be happy with a weekend split.