Back in the summer, before the college-hockey season began, there seemed to be plenty of people around Mankato asking the question, “Ferris who?” when examining the list of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s new members following the shakeup of college hockey’s conferences.
Gone were Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State and others, replaced with Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, Lake Superior State and more.
Didn’t seem like a fair trade. At least that’s what a lot ticket buyers said, anyway.
They called the WCHA a weakened, watered down conference, one that the so-called power schools ran — not walked — away from, leaving Minnesota State in the dust and leaving some of its fans to wonder about the future of the sport in Mankato.
Survival, it seemed, would take more than just the Mavericks becoming the leader of the conference. It would take some some competition for that spot, a rivalry or two and a reason to pay close attention to the standings and rankings each week.
Saturday night against Ferris State felt like a watershed moment for the Mavericks and their fans in this newlook league.
It was a night in which folks began to realize there are good teams in the WCHA (including Minnesota State) and, more, that there’s good hockey played in the league. It was a night in which the fans knew the stakes, were wildly entertained for 2 ½ hours and left the arena with their heads spinning and oh so much to talk about.
It was a game that rivaled some of those overheated matchups against Minnesota and the crazy comebacks against Denver and St. Cloud State.
Ferris Who turned into Ferris Hate by the end of the evening as a rivalry was born between the top teams left over from the old WCHA and now-defunct CCHA, the best teams in the current conference.
With a chance for a series sweep over the first-place Bulldogs and the (then) No. 2-ranked team in the country, more than 4,600 fans (just short of a sellout) turned out to the Verizon Wireless Center.
They saw big hits, a fight and a few ejections — Bulldogs captain Scott Czarnowczan taunted the crowd upon his exit from the arena in the second period, and even their goalie, C.J. Motte, a midseason favorite for the conference’s player of the year, got the boot. The icing for them, of course, was an MSU victory.
Sure, it was a gong show at times, but no one should have felt cheated about paying for a ticket.
But it wasn’t just about the taunting and the fighting. After the game, most of the crowd stuck around to watch the celebration and to chant along with the rink announcer as he called out the name of the game’s No. 1 star, Jean-Paul LaFontaine, who scored two goals and assisted on the game-winner.
Minnesota State needed a game like that. So did the WCHA.
Games like that should keep fans coming back for more.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.