Last season, Ferris State finished ninth in the CCHA, and it was picked in this season’s preseason polls to end the 2002-03 campaign in the same spot. Needless to say, the Bulldogs raised a few eyebrows by roaring to first place and staying there to this point.

But Michigan must have known something nobody else did, because several Wolverines said they expected Ferris State to be among the league leaders.

“We knew they’d be up there,” freshman Jeff Tambellini said. “They’ve got some guns on their team.”

Guns blazing, the Bulldogs will battle to keep their top spot when they clash with the Wolverines in a home-and-home series this weekend. Ferris State sits four points ahead of second-place Michigan in the CCHA standings. The Wolverines have two games in hand, but finish with a tougher schedule than the Bulldogs. No wonder Tambellini said this weekend is “huge.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson said goaltending had been the one question about Ferris State, and sophomore Mike Brown has answered it, posting a 2.38 goals against average.

The Bulldogs sport the No. 1 offense in the league, led by senior Chris Kunitz. The forward leads the league with 48 points, and his 20 goals rank first in the CCHA and third in the nation. But Ferris State’s offense isn’t one-dimensional. Besides Kunitz, sophomores Jeff Legue and Derek Nesbitt are also among the league scoring leaders.

For the Wolverines, this isn’t exactly the best time to face such a prolific offense. Berenson has been looking for better team defense for several weeks, and now Michigan is undermanned behind the blueline. Junior Andy Burnes is returning from a groin injury. Forward J.J. Swistak skated as a defenseman in practice yesterday and may fill the sixth spot this weekend.

Tambellini said defense is Michigan’s biggest concern this weekend, and that it will take “a group effort” to shut down Ferris State’s snipers.

Still, after chasing the Bulldogs all season, the Wolverines are more than ready to finally meet the upstarts on the ice.

“This is what you dream about – a weekend where you can grab first place, and playing against one of the better teams in college hockey,” Tambellini said. “It doesn’t get any better than this right now.”

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