Playoff picture becomes more clear for FSU

LAST SERIES: Ferris State’s Justin Buzzeo (left) and the Bulldogs travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season finale. (Pioneer file photo)

Bulldogs clinch first-round bye, still have designs on hosting playoff series

BIG RAPIDS — A bye week has provided some healing time and a little bit of clarity for the Ferris State hockey team heading into its regular season series finale this weekend against Michigan.

While the Bulldogs stayed home and rested some injuries over the weekend, their CCHA playoff picture began to come into focus. FSU (15-13-4, 13-11-2) clinched a first-round bye, guaranteeing at least a No. 5 seed in the league tournament for the fourth consecutive season.

There is still plenty on the line for the Bulldogs heading into Ann Arbor for a pair of 7:35 p.m. contests today and Saturday at Yost Ice Arena, FSU coach Bob Daniels said.

“One of our goals at the beginning of the season is to get that first round bye in the CCHA playoffs, with another being getting home ice and a top four seed,” he said. “We’re going into the series knowing we’ll need a minimum of one win to have a shot at securing home ice. There’s a lot to play for, both for us and for Michigan.”

Although it has been a disappointing season by program standards, the Wolverines (12-18-2, 9-15-2) have positioned themselves to move as high as seventh in the league standings, allowing them to host a first round CCHA series following a sweep on the road against Ohio State.

The series at Yost Ice Arena is important on several levels in that regard, Daniels said, when considering playing on the road with a team that possesses as much talent on the ice as Michigan.

“I had a chance to watch bits of the Michigan series against Ohio State where they swept on the road,” he said. “Obviously Ohio State as a team is a lot like us, so it will provide a challenge.”

Against a team like Michigan, Daniels is hoping to minimize mistakes, which will hopefully limit odd-man rushes by a talented Wolverines team.

“They’re a tremendous transition team,” he said. “They have so much speed and talent, it makes it difficult on line rushes. We don’t want to turn it over in the neutral zone, so good puck movement will be critical for us.”

Daniels also noted he would like to avoid the penalty box as much as possible against the Wolverines, who possess the league’s third best power-play, converting on 17.4 percent of their opportunities this season.

Offensively, the Wolverines are typically strong, leading the CCHA in scoring at 3.09 goals per game. U-M boasts five players that have scored at least 23 points this season, with Cristoval Nieves (8 goals, 18 assists), Alex Guptill (11 goals, 12 assists), AJ Treais (11 goals, 12 assists) and Jacob Trouba (9 goals, 14 assists) among the recognizable names for the Wolverines.

Where U-M has struggled has been on the defensive end and in particular, its goaltending, where the Wolverines rank last in the league, allowing 3.59 goals per game.

Another positive coming off the bye week is that the extra time has allowed the Bulldogs to heal on the injury front, with defenseman Scott Czarnowczan and center Travis Ouellette expected to return this weekend.

With players not even taking the ice until Wednesday of last week, while others only practiced just twice during the bye week, Daniels said it was a time for the team to condition and do some skill work before planning for the Wolverines this week.

It has led to a more physically and mentally focused Bulldog team this week.

“Not only physically, but mentally we used up a lot of energy and had some tough series dating back to the series against Michigan State,” Daniels said. “One of the biggest things is just getting everybody returning and getting some of that line chemistry back. It’s going to be one of the first times all year that we’ve had everybody healthy.”

Having Czarnowczan and Ouellette back ultimately will help FSU’s special teams, Daniels said, but probably not this weekend with both players getting their legs back. Both will be re-inserted into those roles, however, helping the Bulldogs heading into the postseason.

Both games against the Wolverines will be televised nationally with CBS Sports Network airing tonight’s game and Fox Sports Detroit broadcasting Saturday’s contest.

For those not able to make it to Yost Ice Arena, local Bulldog fans and students are invited to watch both games live during the special “watch parties” at both Crankers Brewery and Restaurant along with Buffalo Wild Wings in Big Rapids.

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