The Michigan hockey team will close out the first half of its season when it hosts Ferris State tonight in a battle of top-five teams. The Wolverines have had their share of big games already this year, and are eager for one more victory to cap off a stellar first three months.
The third-ranked Maize and Blue enter tonight's matchup (7:00 pm, Fox Sports Detroit Plus) with the fourth-ranked Bulldogs holding a record of 10-2-1, including a 3-0-1 mark against ranked opponents (at the time of their game). Wand wth so many marquee contests this season - UMass-Lowell and Nebraska-Omaha are also ranked foes even though they weren't when U-M played them - the Wolverines will carry the proper mindset into this evening's affair.
"Most of the games this year have felt like playoff hockey," said senior forward Luke Moffatt. "We've had a lot of one-goal games [nine], games going down to the final period and last few minutes, and it's been fun to play in these games.
"We're really excited to play Ferris State. We don't get to play them much now that we're no longer in the CCHA, and with it being the No. 3 and No. 4 ranked teams going at each other, it should be a great game to play in and a great game to be a fan at."
For Michigan's freshmen, including the seven regularly in the lineup (four forwards, two defensemen and a goalie), the onslaught of high-intensity matchups in the first half of the season has expedited their learning curves, which they expect will help them once the Big Ten campaign commences fully in January.
"Playing Boston College in the first game -- we were not eased into playing college hockey," rookie blue liner Nolan De Jong said. "We were playing against some high-end players right away so it took the transition period out and forced us to raise our games immediately.
"I think all of the early games have prepared us well for games like this week against another top-five team. Every team has given us a run for our money and tested us, and we've responded as a team and as a freshman class so I think that will help us."
For De Jong and many of his classmates (and even teammates) the first 2.5 months of the season have flown by, and now, after tonight, the Maize and Blue will enjoy a two-week, 16-day hiatus between contests, not suiting up again until a Great Lakes Invitational semifinal Dec. 27 against Western Michigan (outdoors at Comerica Park in Detroit).
"With it being our last game for awhile, we want to go out with a win and go into Christmas in good spirits," said Moffatt.
Though Michigan has taken the last few weeks to reassess its game - and is determined to instill a more cutthroat attitude after blowing third-period leads in each of its last three contests and in four of the last six - it has not enjoyed such a long break between games.
U-M last played a game that counted Dec. 2, when it traveled to Ohio State (it played an exhibition Dec. 5), and before that played Nov. 29 and Nov. 22 … so in the past 24 days, the Wolverines have had just three official contests after playing 10 times in 38 days.
"Once you get going, you want to keep that rhythm," head coach Red Berenson said.
"The hardest part is on our goalies. We can only play one goalie at a time, and last week only one played and this week only one will play. That's hard and then it's hard for our team too because you're just getting into game shape and now you're practicing a lot more than you're playing.
"Injury-wise we haven't had any that have made a big difference.
"The positive side is I look at a team like the Detroit Red Wings and they don't have time to improve their game. They have a day of practice, a day of travel and they're playing again. We get a chance to work on things, which is the beauty of college hockey, but still it seems like we haven't played in forever."
The infrequency of games is even greater motivation to go out on a high note before the holiday break.
"It's our last game for awhile, and it's another big game, and we have to be ready because our opponent is looking to knock off a top-five team," junior forward Travis Lynch said. "W have to match their intensity and play with the same sense of urgency that they're bringing into our building,"