Apart from a couple of natural, geographical rivalries, the new Western Collegiate Hockey Association began in the fall of 2013 with a lot of teams that didn’t have strong opinions about the others.
That all changed on this weekend a year ago when Minnesota State-Mankato and Ferris State met in a series at Mankato.
Before a pair of big crowds, the teams — who ended up being the best two in the conference — played a fast, physical, intense series that included a fight before the weekend was over.
MSU, who was hovering just above .500 at the time, upset the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs and would beat them again two months later in the Final Five championship game.
“With that fight with Teddy [Blueger] and their goalie [C.J. Motte], there’s a little rivalry,” Mavericks senior Zach Palmquist said. “But we can’t think of it like that. We have to play our game. It’s going to be a gritty one.”
— Zach Palmquist
This weekend, the tables are turned from a year ago.
The Mavericks are ranked No. 1 in the country and hold a sizable lead atop the WCHA, while Ferris State, the league’s defending regular-season champion, are at .500 and trying to move up.
And this time, the games will be played in Big Rapids, Michigan, in the close quarters of a nearly sold out Ewigleben Ice Arena, which seats 2,457. A rowdy student section, known as the “Dawg Pound,” already is sold out for the 60th and 61st consecutive time.
“We’re going into one of the most difficult places to play in our league and one of the toughest places to play in the country,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said.
Ferris State is 22-3-1 in its past 26 home games.
“It will be as fast a game as we’ll be involved in, going back to Bowling Green,” Hastings said. “It’s a small sheet, combined with the intimacy of a low ceiling and a sold-out atmosphere.”
The Mavericks are 7-2-0 on small ice sheets (200 feet by 85 feet) this season, including a sweep at then-No. 1 Michigan Tech in mid-November.
“We’re looking forward to playing Ferris,” senior Chase Grant said. “We’re looking forward to playing them in their barn.”
During their second of three games last season, the Mavericks finished off a series sweep with a 4-3 victory in a game before a crowd of 4,636 that featured a combined 216 penalty minutes. Three players, including Blueger and teammate Zach Stepan and Ferris State’s Justin DeMartino, received fighting majors and game disqualifications. Seven other players, including Motte, received game misconducts.
“We had a great series with them last year, but we’re not thinking too much about last year,” Palmquist said. “The focus is on now and trying to get four points.”
That will be no easy task, as Ferris State would love to knock MSU down a couple of pegs, just like the Mavericks did to the Bulldogs a year ago, and get back in the MacNaughton Cup race.
“We do have a target on our back,” Palmquist said, “but we have guys in the locker room who can block that out and play their game. We have a mentally tough team.”
This article was written by Shane Frederick from The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.