In the Michigan hockey team’s series this weekend, maize and blue will likely turn into black and bruised.
With No. 7 Michigan facing Ferris State in a home-and-home, the Wolverines know one thing: they are going to get hit.
The defensively minded Bulldogs have made a habit of using their size — they have 10 players who are 6-foot-2 or taller — and strength to intimidate opponents this season, which in turn has vaulted them to top in the nation in goals against. Ferris State is the only program in the country team giving up less than two goals per game this season.
“They’re really good at playing man-on-man,” senior forward Carl Hagelin said after practice Wednesday. “They’re not going to give up (on) any hits. You know you’re going to get hit at least 10 times that game. It’s just hard to get to the net.”
Ferris State’s hit-first-count-how-many-later attitude was on display when Michigan (10-4-1-0 CCHA, 13-6-4 overall) played the Bulldogs in late October. The Wolverines split the home-and-home series, needing a goal from junior forward David Wohlberg with 13 seconds left to tie the first game in Big Rapids before losing in overtime. Michigan came back with a 3-2 victory at home the following night.
“It felt like we were almost scared to play against them,” Hagelin said after the series’ first game. “We’re thinking too much about how they play.”
The five total goals scored by the Wolverines are tied for their lowest in a series all season. And while Wohlberg’s late goal stole a point back in October, Michigan coach Red Berenson and his players have mentioned that the most important goal scored in the games this weekend probably won’t be the last one. It will be the first.
If Michigan can score the opening marker, it forces Ferris State to pull out of their collapsing defensive style slightly in an attempt to garner the equalizer. In the two teams’ past eight meetings, the team who has scored first has won the game. The Wolverines are also 10-0-3 this season when scoring first.
“You don’t want to make too much of it because whether you do or you don’t, it doesn’t guarantee anything,” Berenson said. “We know the first goal has been a factor in most of our wins, but you could have four first goals and four wins and say, ‘Well every time we score first, we win,’ but then the fifth game you might score first and not win.”
The teams will be familiar with each other from their last meeting, but the stakes have changed. Fresh off a sweep of Bowling Green last weekend, the Bulldogs (8-6-3-2, 11-8-4) have jumped into third place in the conference. Michigan sits in second, just four points behind Notre Dame, though the Fighting Irish have played one more game than the Wolverines.
And if Michigan can pull any closer to the top of the CCHA as the season winds down, then maybe all the pain this series is sure to bring will be worth it.