Ferris State is no stranger to winning.
The Bulldogs have won regular-season and playoff championships, and they’ve won on the road in the playoffs during their first three seasons in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The team’s history and strong finish to this season have the Bulldogs feeling confident entering this weekend’s WCHA quarterfinal series against Bowling Green.
BG and Ferris play Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday at 7:07 p.m. in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
The Bulldogs are the defending WCHA playoff champion, winning as the fourth seed last season.
Ferris won the revamped WCHA’s first regular-season championship in 2014 when this season’s seniors were freshmen. The Bulldogs have won all three of their first-round playoff series in the WCHA, including an opening-round victory at Bemidji State in 2015.
After winning the WCHA playoffs last season, Ferris advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals before losing.
The Bulldogs have steadily improved this season after a slow start. They’re 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, including splits with second-place Michigan Tech and the Falcons.
Ferris finished fifth in the league, two points behind fourth-place BG. The Bulldogs are 13-17-5 overall and 12-14-4-2 in the WCHA, but they’re 10-7-3 in their last 20 league games. They were fourth in both the coaches and media polls.
“We haven’t had any real sustained winning streaks, but we are progressing,” said Ferris coach Bob Daniels, who is in his 25th season. “I feel good about our team. We’re playing well. By any numeric indicator you look at, it’s going to be a really tight series with a good chance of going three games, maybe some overtime tossed in.”
SENIOR POWER: Like the Falcons, the Bulldogs are led by their seniors — forwards Gerald Mayhew, Jared VanWormer and Chad McDonald, and defenseman Ryan Lowney.
“We’re getting really good play from all four of our seniors,” Daniels said. “When your seniors and your older players are playing really well, it helps drive the team. They help keep us calm over what is a very emotional time of the year.
“When you get to this point and you’re in the playoffs, the herd is going to be thinned each week because you’re losing teams. Because of that, emotions tend to run higher. Understanding we want to use those emotions to enhance our game and not take over our game is important. Those guys have been through an awful lot. We’ll need our seniors to show these younger guys the way. You can’t let your emotion take control of your game because when that happens, it can hurt your play.”
MORE FERRIS: The Falcons and Bulldogs split their two regular-season series, Nov. 4-5 in BG and Jan. 27-28 in Big Rapids, Michigan.
“They’re a really good team,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “It’s a hungry Ferris team. It’s a team that plays hard all the time. It’s a team that doesn’t care if they’re playing on the road or at home. They’re going to bring the same effort and the same intensity.
“With that being said, they’re a team that has a bunch of skill,” Bergeron added. “There’s a bunch of reasons you better have your ‘A’ game. It’s a tight, tight playoff series.”
The Bulldogs are fifth in the league in both scoring (2.60 goals per game) and goals allowed (2.57 goals per game).
REVIEW: Bergeron still found positives in BG’s regular season, even though it finished fourth in the WCHA after being picked to win the league championship by both the coaches and the media.
The Falcons returned a veteran team this season finishing third in the league the last two seasons and tied for third in 2014.
BG is 17-17-2 overall and 14-13-1-1 in the league. The Falcons still can reach the 20-win mark for the third straight season and win the league playoff championship.
“One of the goals going into the year is to host a playoff series,” Bergeron said. “We’re doing that. We’ve earned that opportunity. Another goal is to win 20 games. We still have that opportunity. Another goal was to win some type of championship. We still have that opportunity.
“I don’t need a fresh start, myself. I don’t think our guys need a fresh start. Our refocus, our rest came two weeks ago when we had all that time off. We finished fourth in a 10-team league and are hosting the first round of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. That’s talking about consistency. I don’t think we need a fresh start. What we need to do is play the game we’re capable of playing for more of the time than our opponent.”
ROAD WINS: The Bulldogs are 7-7-2 on the road, but only 6-9-2 at home. Their road record includes splits at the top four teams in the league — Bemidji, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and BG.
“We’ve played better on the road than we have at home,” Daniels said. “We wanted to have home ice, but we didn’t get it. Now that we don’t have it, we look for the positives. We have confidence we can win on the road because we’ve shown we can have success on the road.”
OVERALL: Ferris was 6-6 against the top four teams in the WCHA, but only 6-8-2 against the bottom five teams in the league. The Bulldogs were 1-3 against Alabama-Huntsville and 2-1-1 against Alaska-Anchorage. UAH and UAA both missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
GROWTH: Daniels said the team’s improvement is the result of improved discipline, and the growth of freshman goalie Justin Kapelmaster and four freshmen defensemen.
Since taking too many penalties early in the season, Ferris is the third-least penalized team in the league at 14.0 minutes per game.
The Bulldogs have had three and sometimes four freshman defensemen in the lineup almost every game. Nate Kallen has played 35 games, while Cameron Clarke and Joe Rutkowski both have played 33. Kapelmaster has a 2.17 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in 18 games
“Those guys have garnered a lot of experience,” Daniels said. “With the minutes they’ve played, they’re no longer freshmen. Their confidence has been building and emerging.”
The status of Clarke, a fifth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Boston Bruins in June, is day-to-day, Daniels said. He missed the team’s regular-season finale at Lake Superior because of an illness.
Kapelmaster ranks fourth nationally in save percentage and 14th in goals-against. He’s started 16 of the team’s 35 games. In three games against BG this season, Kapelmaster was 2-1 with a 1.33 goals-against and a .951 save percentage.
Kapelmaster and sophomore Darren Smith (2.76, .908) have split Ferris’ last two series. Smith has started 19 games.
STATS: Mayhew is the league’s second-leading scorer with 33 points and led the WCHA in league-game scoring. He has 17 goals and 16 assists in 33 games overall, and 15 goals and 15 assists in 26 league games.
Sophomore forward Corey Mackin is 10th overall with 26 points, including 13 goals. VanWormer has eight goals and 14 assists, junior forward Mitch Maloney has 11 goals and eight assists, and McDonald has 10 goals and nine assists.
Mackin centers Ferris’ top line with VanVormer on left wing and Mayhew on right wing.
THE VIEW FROM FERRIS: Daniels likes the way BG is playing entering the playoffs. The Falcons have won three straight games.
“They’re a very solid team, and they’ve played in a lot of big games over the years,” Daniels said. “Their older players have had a lot of success during their careers. They have a winning pedigree, and that can carry you a long way in the playoffs.”
RANKINGS: BG goalie Chris Nell is 17th nationally with a 2.19 goals-against.
Falcon forward Mitch McLain is in a three-way tie for third in overall scoring in the WCHA. He has 30 points, including 17 goals. His 17 goals are tied for the second-most in the league, one behind Northern Michigan’s Dominik Shine.
CAMPUS SITES: Under the WCHA’s new playoff format this season, all three rounds will be played at campus sites.
NEXT: The quarterfinal winners will be reseeded for the best-of-3 semifinals March 11, 12 and, if necessary, March 13.
The highest-remaining seed will host the lowest-remaining seed and the second-highest remaining seed will host the second-lowest remaining seed.
If the top three seeds win this weekend, the BG-Ferris winner visits WCHA regular-season champion and top-seeded Bemidji for the semifinals. The only way the BG-Ferris winner hosts a semifinal series is if two of the top three seeds lose.
Michigan Tech is the No. 2 seed, and Minnesota State is the No. 3 seed.
REWARDS: The WCHA playoff champion wins the Broadmoor Trophy and an automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs. The WCHA is expected to be a one-bid league to the NCAAs again this season.
The highest WCHA team in the Pairwise Rankings is Bemidji at No. 24. The Pairwise Rankings mirror the NCAA selection criteria.
MSU is 27th, followed by Tech 31st, BG 39th and Ferris 47th.