Ferris series may decide playoff home ice

Ray Bressette

A trip to Ferris State University this weekend could decide whether the Wildcats will host playoff action at the Berry Events Center in March, or if the ’Cats will hit the road in the first round for the fourth straight season.re-Hockey_JR

The series might be the last chance for NMU to gain ground on the Bulldogs, who sit four points ahead of the fifth place Wildcats, as Ferris holds the fourth and final playoff seed to host the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.

NMU head coach Walt Kyle said his team understands the severity of this weekend’s matchup.

“When you get into the second half of the year and are in a position to achieve home ice, every game and every series counts,” Kyle said. “The reality is we have to win these games. We’re fortunate to have the chance to play Ferris, and we control our own fate. It’s a big weekend of hockey, and it will be a big stretch to the end of the season for us and everyone in our league.”

An NMU sweep would put them in a tie with Ferris while a split would put them back in the race for home ice, as NMU has six conference games remaining compared to Ferris’ four, giving NMU the advantage to gain more points.

However, if the Bulldogs sweep the ’Cats or if NMU fails to pick up a win this weekend, the Wildcats will put themselves in jeopardy of hitting the road back to Big Rapids or Michigan Tech to open the playoffs.

Despite the urge to achieve a win this weekend, Kyle isn’t prepared to label any game as a must-win.

“We know where we are in the standings, but we don’t put too much into it,” Kyle said. “We look at every game being important, not just this weekend. This is a time of the year you have to win games. Winning is almost secondary, as you have to focus on getting healthy and play better. We have to prepare for success in the playoffs and the end of the season. We don’t want to put pressure on our players, and just focus on the fact that if we keep getting better, we’re going to be successful.”

The teams split a two-game series in December at the Berry Events Center. Ferris took a 4-2 match on Dec. 11, while junior forward Dominik Shine netted an overtime winner the following night to earn NMU the 3-2 win on Dec. 12.

The goal added his third point earned in the series after racking up two assists prior. Shine leads NMU in scoring with 12 goals and is second in points with 22.

The Wildcats have won four of their last five games, all at home. The ’Cats earned their first weekend sweep of the season last week with a pair over Alaska Anchorage.

Ferris is in the middle of their hottest streak of the season, going undefeated in their last seven games and earning conference points in sixstraight WCHA matches.

The Bulldog offense ranks third in the conference, with a top-five offensive threat in junior forward Gerald Mayhew, who’s racked up nine goals and 24 points.

Shine said the ’Cats learned the Bulldogs’ offensive abilities in their last matchup.

“They’re a good team that always has good forwards,” Shine said. “They have a lot of small defensemen that move the puck well. We have to pressure the puck on them and move the puck forward on them to beat them.”

Ferris will have two conference series remaining after their series with NMU, including a trip to second place Bowling Green State then closing out the regular season hosting Lake Superior State. The ’Cats will host the conference’s last place Alabama-Huntsville before taking a trip to Lake Superior State, then will close out the season with a home-and-home series with archrival Tech.

Nowick said his team cannot afford to look past Ferris this weekend.

“The standings are always in the back of our minds a bit, but we can’t worry about that,” Nowick said. “We have to focus on getting the two wins, then when we’re done we’ll be back on our
home ice.”