Gerald Mayhew knows his Ferris State team is the unknown commodity in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament.
The WCHA was just 27-35-9 against other conferences this season and Ferris State finished fourth in regular-season conference play and is ranked 30th in the latest PairWise rankings.
Now the Bulldogs open the national tournament against No. 2-ranked St. Cloud State, the NCHC champion and team with the most wins in the country (31).
Can you say Cinderella on skates?
Mayhew can, and he loves it.
“I kind of like being the underdog,” said Mayhew, a junior forward and the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals and 22 assists.
“Everyone counts us out and we have the chance to do something big that would be great for our team and our conference that could help with recruiting. I’m sure deep down the WCHA teams are all pulling for us because this league doesn’t get the credit it deserves.”
A win Saturday against St. Cloud could change all that.
The Huskies are riding a six-game winning streak, rank second in the nation in scoring (4.23 goals per game), have the second best power play (29%), boast a Hobey Baker Award frontrunner in defenseman Ethan Prow (8 goals, 29 assists) and a Mike Richter Award finalist in goalie in Charlie Lingren who is 30-8-1 with a .926 save percentage, has three shutouts and a 2.08 goals-against average.
Should Ferris State pull off that semifinal upset, it will face the Denver-Boston University winner, both perennial powers with a combined 12 national titles.
BU beat Denver, 5-4, in overtime on Halloween but much has changed since then. The Terriers return 15 players from last season’s Frozen Four runner-up squad and have a week to rest since being swept by UMass Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals. The last time around, Denver didn’t have its highly touted Pacific Rim Line — Dylan Gambrell (15 goals, 38 assist), Trevor Moore (14 goals, 29 assists), and Danton Heinen (19 goals, 23 assists) — together. Since the rock star trio was formed Denver is 16-2-2 and one of the hottest teams in the country.
“We’re familiar with them only in the fact that we played them earlier in the year but I think they’re a lot of different team than we played in October,” BU coach Dave Quinn said. “They’re one of the best teams in the country right now. One of the hottest teams in country. They’re probably as good of team as we played all year.”
Mayhew knows the Bulldogs can get lost amongst the hype of the other three teams in the region, but he’s hoping that works to Ferris State’s favor.
“We’re playing our best hockey right now,” Mayhew said. “We beat some very good teams to get here and in the championship game of our conference we held Minnesota State to just 15 shots (in a 2-1 win) on net. That doesn’t happen a lot. It’s kind of unheard of. I’ve never seen our team more determined or focused as we were in that game. That’s what we have to continue to do.”
Mayhew is known by Bulldogs followers as “Gerald Time” and he proved his nickname right in the title game when he was called upon to take a penalty shot with 26 seconds remaining in the second period and the score tied at 1 after a Minnesota State player was whistled for a hand pass in the crease during a wild flurry.
“I was tired and kind of hoping coach wouldn’t call me,” Mayhew said. “When he did I just went, ‘OK, let’s go,’ and I had been practicing a move where I fake a shot then go up high to the glove side over the goalie and it happened to work.”
It wasn’t the first time he’s responded to tournament pressure. Mayhew earned his nickname during the 2013-2014 season when he scored the overtime winner against Alaska Anchorage in the WCHA Frozen Five title game and scored another game-winner in the Midwest Region semifinal against Colgate when he batted the puck out of the air for the game’s only goal.
The Bulldogs have seven seniors who played on that NCAA squad, which lost a 2-1 double overtime classic to North Dakota in the Midwest Region title game.
Now the Bulldogs are back, and they’ll deal with a seasoned St. Cloud squad that allows just 2.12 goals per game.
Ferris State isn’t far behind. The Bulldogs average 2.67 goals per game and surrender 2.54.
Freshman goalie Darren Smith’s carries a .923 save percentage and 2.15 GAA.
“He’s been our rock,” Mayhew said of Smith. “He’s why we’re here.”
Above: Gerald Mayhew earned the nickname “Gerald Time” for his clutch play. (Courtesy Ferris State Athletics)