If only the 2016 WCHA tournament featured an award for outstanding unquantifiable contributions. Ferris State’s starting left winger, Jared VanWormer, would be the most worthy recipient of such an accolade.
But as it is, VanWormer emerges as the most underrated individual winner among the victorious Bulldogs. Although he went pointless in the team’s 1-0 and 2-1 upsets of Michigan Tech and Minnesota State, respectively, he was in on a chain of deciding plays.
In Saturday’s title tilt, FSU initially trailed the seasoned and potent Mavericks, who entered the action 14-1-5 on the year when scoring first. But barely three minutes elapsed between MSU’s icebreaker and the Bulldogs’ second power play of the evening.
On that sequence, VanWormer won a race with opposing first-unit blueliner Jon Jutzi into the far corner to set up the 5-on-4 formation. As his teammates moved the puck, he hustled to goaltender Cole Huggins’ line of vision. He was still there when point patroller Brandon Andelsimi hit the top shelf with a wrister from the near circle top.
One period later, the hulking junior set up the go-ahead tally in another uncredited manner. Once again stationed within spitting distance of Huggins, he furiously forked at the biscuit until Mavericks defenseman Carter Foguth pawed it away from the crease.
That infraction earned VanWormer’s fellow first-line winger, Gerald Mayhew, a penalty shot. Mayhew converted that free one-on-one in the final minute of the second period.
That strike would stand as the winner, in part, because of VanWormer’s stalwart effort in the dying seconds of regulation. With the help of fellow forward Kyle Schempp, he forced a turnover amidst MSU’s last-minute, 6-on-5 attack and cleared the zone to effectively seal the crown.
Loser: Carter Foguth
The aforementioned Foguth created a hodgepodge of demoralizing developments for his Mavericks on Saturday. As noted above, the junior captain’s psyche succumbed to VanWormer’s pressure, leading him to glove the puck in his crease, precipitating the deciding penalty shot.
On top of that, he did this with 26.3 seconds remaining in the middle frame and with a 1-1 draw at hand. Any last-minute strike in any stanza, but particularly a tiebreaker in a goaltenders’ duel, is momentous enough to begin with. For it to come on the heels of the defending team’s ill-advised infraction that incurs a rare one-on-one exacerbates that impact.
Besides his costly second-period flub, Foguth also landed himself in the sin bin twice Saturday. The middle-tier blueliner put MSU on the night’s first penalty kill for roughing at 5:24 of the opening frame. Later, with 7:50 to spare in regulation, he joined FSU’s Schempp on coincidental slashing minors.
Those were his second and third traditional penalty calls on the weekend. In Friday’s semifinal, he sat down for holding with 4:25 remaining in regulation. He would get up in another 30 seconds, as Bowling Green converted the power play to spoil Huggins’ shutout in an eventual 2-1 escape.
Winner: Brad McClure
Of the many Mavs who deserved a better fate, McClure comes readily to mind for his timely awakening on the weekend. After a 29-point freshman campaign, he slogged through a sophomore slump, but tallied his 12th and 13th point of 2015-16 in Grand Rapids.
In his postgame presser following Friday’s victory, Mavericks bench boss Mike Hastings offered, “He’s consistent in how he prepares daily, and whether he’s scoring goals or not, he’s very consistent about where his effort and his attitude is.
“He’s a guy you want to see in the locker room, he’s enjoyable to be around, but the most important piece of that is his expectation for himself is going to be greater than anything I put on him or anybody else.”
That showed in the way McClure broke the ice for MSU in Friday’s 2-1 victory, decided on Casey Nelson’s strike less than two minutes later. Ditto his role in firing a wide-angle bid for Bryce Gervais to tip home for Saturday’s icebreaker.
Losers: WCHA apologists
In hindsight, Northeastern’s surprise tournament victory in Hockey East may have inevitably doomed the WCHA to a solo representative in the national bracket. But entering the weekend, first-place Michigan Tech was stilll in potential at-large territory.
A semifinal victory over Ferris State would have, at least theoretically, kept the Huskies in that position going into Saturday. Instead, MTU came up empty, thereby squandering the circuit’s hopes of extending the season of any tenant besides the Broadmoor Trophy winner.
The two teams looking for repeat NCAA bids, namely the Huskies and Mavericks, had weak schedules and slow starts to their season come back to haunt them. For MTU, Friday’s loss to FSU magnified the absence of invisible, yet invaluable nonconference points from a December loss to Michigan and January regulation tie with Yale.
In turn, in its third post-realignment campaign, the WCHA’s national presence took a step back. After sending two representatives to both the 2014 and 2015 dance, it will only have the Bulldogs in 2016.
Winner: Darren Smith
The weekend of the goalie at Van Andel Arena saw all of seven red lights flash in nine periods of play. The stellar, spinal performances of veterans Jamie Phillips, Huggins and even BGSU breakout sophomore Chris Nell surprised no one.
With that in mind, the Ferris State freshman netminder stood out all the more. Smith won his 1-0 staring contest with the MTU senior, then blinked only on an early Mavericks power-play conversion.
His poise allowed him to outduel Huggins for the next 49-plus minutes, though he needed to answer an often underappreciated challenge. Smith staved off rust, as he dealt with a mere six registered shots in Saturday’s second period, and only one in the third.
Come what may, his two-day output of 43 saves on 44 stabs earned his his team the title and himself the tournament MVP laurel.
Loser: Minnesota State power play
Yes, it converted for the first strike on Saturday, but Gervais’ goal constituted MSU’s only power-play shot of the game.
As much as Smith warrants credit for answering every challenge he confronted, the Mavericks did not generate nearly enough to test him. The egregious epitome was their five-minute man advantage that carried over into the middle frame by 67 seconds.
No shots in the first 3:53, when the Mavs could have regained their lead before the first intermission. No shots when they could have converted the all-you-can-score buffet in the first-minute plus on a clean sheet of ice.
And this was all one night after going 0-for-6 on the power play versus Bowling Green. The erratic unit would not thwart the team’s dream on Friday, but would catch up 24 hours later.