CINCINNATI (AP) — Ferris State was ranked No. 2 and had an unbeaten streak of 16 games. A young Colgate team was starting to figure things out and dig out of its early season struggles.
When they met in the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis on Jan. 4, neither one had any indication that it would become a pivotal game in both of their seasons.
Colgate won 3-0, ending Ferris State's streak and starting one of its own. The Raiders went 13-4-2 the rest of the season and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament.
They meet again in the Midwestern Regional semifinals on Friday night. Top-seeded Wisconsin plays North Dakota in the other semifinal.
The first semifinal matches two teams that know each other quite well even though they're in different conferences. Ferris State (28-10-3) opened the season by splitting a pair of games against Colgate (20-13-5). When they met again in Minneapolis, it became a turning point.
Ferris State was winning despite some sloppy play. The shutout loss got the Bulldogs' attention.
"It got us back on the straight-and-narrow and made us a better team," coach Bob Daniels said Thursday. "It was a pivotal moment for both ourselves and for Colgate's season."
For Colgate, it was a confidence builder. A team with only two seniors played No. 1 Minnesota to a tie and beat Ferris State on consecutive days.
"That was the defining moment for this team to date," coach Don Vaughan said.
Five things to watch in the semifinals:
COLGATE'S KIDS: The Raiders have only two seniors, so inexperience could come into play in their biggest game of the season. A lot the focus will be on freshman goaltender Charlie Finn, who had 19 saves in that 3-0 win over Ferris State at midseason.
"Clearly our goaltender, Charlie Finn, has to be at or near the top of a handful of guys who improved over the year," Vaughan said. "Anytime you make the transition from junior hockey to NCAA Division I hockey, there's going to be a period of learning.
"So we've seen a marked improvement in Charlie's play and that's obviously had a lot to do with our success in the second half."
FERRIS STATE'S FAMILIARITY: The Bulldogs are an experienced team that knows what the tournament is like, given their run to the title game two years ago. Ferris State also reached the tournament in 2003 and is trying to get its program to the point where it's a Frozen Four contender every year. That experience from two years ago helps, giving the players a sense of familiarity under pressure.
"This is the type of game you don't come across very often," senior winger Garrett Thompson said. "It's a big game, but that doesn't mean that you need to freak out."
THANKS, WE THINK: North Dakota reached the tournament with help from a traditional rival. Wisconsin beat Ohio State 5-4 in overtime for the Big Ten title, knocking the Buckeyes out of the running and opening an at-large berth for North Dakota. Some of the players sent texts and tweets to the Badgers thanking them for the assist. That was before they learned that they'd be facing each other in the semifinals.
"It's kind of ironic we're playing them," said sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, one of those who celebrated Wisconsin's win. "So maybe I'll recant that statement."
WISCONSIN'S SENIORS: The Badgers' nine seniors give them a lot of experience, but it's their experience in one game that helps them now. They reached the tournament last year and got beat by UMass-Lowell 6-1, an ugly ending that taught them a few things that helped them get ready for this one.
"Last year it caught us by surprise a little bit when we got to that regional game," captain Frankie Simonelli said.
"This year, there's a different demeanor in the locker room," junior defenseman Jake McCabe said. "We have this No. 1 seed and a lot of confidence. We're not done with playing hockey right now."
THIS AND THAT: North Dakota has seven national titles (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000), while Wisconsin has three (1977, 1983, 2006). ... Wisconsin and North Dakota will be playing for the 164th time. ... The Badgers are 0-2 in the tournament against North Dakota, losing 5-2 in the 1982 title game and 3-2 in overtime in a 2008 regional final. ... Ferris State is in the tournament for the third time, also making it in 2003. The Bulldogs are the only Michigan team in the tournament. ... Colgate is one of the youngest teams in the nation with 17 freshmen and sophomores. It's in the tournament for the first time since 2005.
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