Christmas is certainly the most wonderful time of the year. Not just because of the snow, presents, or good food, but because of some of the best tournaments in hockey. Along with international tournaments such as the World Junior Championships and Spengler Cup, the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) has become a post-holiday tradition in the world of college hockey. This year marks the 55th edition of the tournament, and it will take place once again at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Dec. 30 and 31st.
For only the second time in their history, the Ferris State Bulldogs will be one of the four participants.
The 2010s were the most successful decade in the program’s history which included three NCAA Tournament berths and a National Championship Game appearance in 2012. Yet, in the past couple of seasons, the Bulldogs have fallen on hard times. They missed the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) playoffs last season and started off this season on pace to do the same. However, they seemed to have turned their fortunes around the past couple of months to give themselves momentum heading into this year’s GLI.
Slowly Righting the Ship
After a disappointing 2018-19, head coach Bob Daniels and the rest of the Bulldogs wanted to have a better start to the 2019-20 season. Things were looking positive after a win over the Colgate Raiders and a road split with the Miami RedHawks in early October. However, the Bulldogs dropped their next six games, including being swept by conference opponents Northern Michigan Wildcats and the Lake Superior State Lakers on consecutive weekends.
The Bulldogs were able to bounce back in mid-November, as they picked up splits with the Bemidji State Beavers and Alaska Nanooks, both of which currently sit in the top-three in the WCHA standings. Ferris State wrapped up the first semester with splits with Alaska-Anchorage and Alabama-Huntsville but was able to pick up extra points in each as their losses were both beyond regulation.
The Bulldogs head into Detroit with a 6-9-2 record, 4-6-2 against conference opponents. They sit in a tie for seventh in the WCHA with the Lakers, right inside the conference playoff picture.
Willets’ Fresh Scoring Leads Ferris
Last season, defenceman Cooper Zech led the Bulldogs in scoring as a freshman. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, he was so good that he signed a professional contract with the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins right after the college season ended (from ‘Who is Cooper Zech? How the undrafted defenseman on AHL deal made an impression on Bruins’, The Athletic NHL – 9/6/19).
Enter Jake Willets, a defenceman who has taken the reigns as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer as a freshman. Sounds like déjà vu right? They both wear #25.
While there is no telling if Willets will follow the same path as Zech, there is no question he is an exceptional talent and a much-needed piece to the Bulldogs’ attack.
Of Willets’ 15 points so far this season, 14 have been assists, which ties him with Northern Michigan’s Philip Beaulieu for the conference lead in that category. He has found a way to make an impact by showing his abilities as a playmaker, which is what drew coach Daniels to recruit him from the Amarillo Bulls out of the North American Hockey League. He has registered two assists on four separate occasions this season, and his five-game point streak back in November saw him pick up seven helpers for Ferris State.
Moise Returns in a Big Way
Even though the Bulldogs are tied for fifth in the WCHA in goals scored with Lake Superior State, they have really never been at full-strength as injuries have affected their lineup throughout the first semester. Lucas Finner, who scored in each of the Bulldogs’ first four games of the season, has been out since November, and Coale Norris missed Ferris State’s weekend set with Alabama-Huntsville.
One player who had been out since early November, but came back into the lineup against the Chargers, was Marshall Moise. The Bulldogs sure were glad to have him back.
Moise tallied two goals in each of the two games against the Chargers on Dec. 13 and 14, catapulting him to a tie for third on the team in points with Joe Rutkowski. His performance against Alabama-Huntsville gave Moise NCAA First Star of the Week honours. The Bulldogs will need him to have another strong weekend if they want to have a chance at the GLI.
Shaw’s Transferred His Talent
The main man between the pipes over the past two months has been Austin Shaw. While it was believed that Roni Salmenkagas was to be the main guy for the Bulldogs this season, the Finnish netminder’s lackluster start opened the door for Shaw.
The Highlands Ranch, Colo. native came to Ferris State after playing half of 2018-19 with the Princeton Tigers. Shaw saw an opportunity to play in his final year of collegiate eligibility with Ferris State and has taken the role admirably as he has gone 3-2-1 in his six starts. He has a 2.38 goals against average, and his .909 save percentage currently sits him seventh among WCHA netminders.
Since seeing his first action in early November, Shaw has split time with freshman Carter McPhail. While McPhail looks to be the future in Ferris State’s net, Shaw’s veteran experience is what is going to lead the Bulldogs through the second semester.
Coming into this year’s GLI, Ferris State finds themselves in a tough spot as Michigan Tech and Michigan State are playing excellent hockey heading into the Holiday break. However, that does not mean they will not be making any noise when they enter Little Caesars Arena. They have a youthful scoring attack, with key players coming back into their lineup.
They are going up against the Michigan Wolverines in the Semifinal, a team that is missing their two best players and has not played all that well this season. It will certainly be an interesting match-up between the former CCHA rivals on Dec. 30.