As a seasoned outdoorsman, Michigan State forward Michael Ferrantino will be prepared for the winter elements when his Spartans take on the Michigan Wolverines at Soldier Field in Chicago in the Hockey City Classic on Saturday.
With a forecasted temperature of 35 degrees for the opening face off and possible rain later in the night, it won’t be Ferrantino’s first bout with Mother Nature as he has been battling the weather for most of his life.
An experienced hunter and fisherman thanks to his father, Ferrantino has enjoyed the outdoors since he was six-years-old.
“Growing up, my dad was always big into hunting and fishing and as me and my brother got older, we took onto it too,” he said. “We’ve always gone on fishing trips in the summer and he’d take us out deer hunting in the fall and just kind of grew on it that way. It was something that we enjoyed doing together.”
The outdoors has always been something the Ferrantino family has shared with each other in addition to the game of hockey. The peace and quiet of the open woods or a calm lake at dawn is a nice escape from the hockey rinks packed with cheering fans. And while the two environments are polar opposites, Ferrantino can draw comparisons between his two strongest passions.
“Hockey is a lot more intense throughout the whole process, a lot more excitement,” he said. “But I think one of the similarities they have is you’ve gotta wait for your opportunity and you’ve gotta make the most of it. A lot of times, you only get a couple scoring chances a game or you’re working all game to get your chances and you’ve gotta be able to capitalize when they come. I think a lot of it’s the same with hunting. You spend a lot of time out preparing whether it’s getting your blinds or stands ready or putting bait out or whatever it is, and you only get a shot or two a year to make it work.”
While separate and very unique in their own rights, the similarities in Ferrantino’s passions speak volumes about his character as the Spartans' captain.
Willing to trek through the mud in the field just as likely as he is to muck it up in the corners of the ice rink, Ferrantino is no stranger to hard work. Rising with the sun to get a jump on the wildlife in addition to hours in the gym and at practice speaks to his level of preparation and commitment to the cause. Several outings of empty hunts and scoreless games that end in frustration all in search of the one opportunity he does break through vouches for his patience and dedication.
Ferrantino recalled his first time out gun hunting for deer season. At 12-years-old, a young Ferrantino claimed his first trophy — an eight-point buck — within the first 15 minutes of being in his deer blind. While just as rewarding as scoring a goal for Michigan State, his lack of success in the field can be just as frustrating as a night at the rink. His first time was a tremendous success but as Ferrantino acknowledged, there’s two sides to the coin.
“There’s been a lot of cold mornings and nights not getting one since then,” he said.
With the Spartans riding a season-long three-game win streak, Ferrantino will hope to capitalize on a few opportunities when MSU meets UM for the second time in as many weeks. One thing is for certain; he will be prepared for the weather as the rivalry goes outdoors at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“Well I’ll definitely know to dress warm," said Ferrantino, laughing. “There’s nothing worse than being out there and being freezing cold so dress warm and prepare for the elements as best you can. Hunting teaches you that the weather can change on a dime, too, so you’ve gotta be prepared for all kinds of conditions and weather.”
No. 14 MICHIGAN (7-2-0, 15-8-0)
OVERVIEW: The nation’s longest win streak was snapped on Friday at seven games as the Wolverines lost to Michigan State 2-1 in the Duel in the D at Joe Louis Arena. Luckily for Michigan, the team will have a chance to avenge the loss as they play the Spartans again this weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago in the Hockey City Classic. The matchup will be the fourth outdoor meeting between the two schools in which the record is 1-1-1. Michigan outshot MSU 30-to-28 last Friday and has outshot its opponent in 17-of-23 games this season averaging 34.9 shots per game. However, the 30 shots resulted in only one goal, so the Wolverines may need to focus on quality over quantity in this week’s rematch against a defensively sound MSU team.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior Zach Hyman’s seven-game goal-scoring streak was snapped in Friday’s loss to the Spartans. The streak was the longest by a Wolverine since Brendan Morrison had an eight-game goal-scoring streak during the 1995-96 season. Hyman was able to extend his point streak, though, with an assist on Dylan Larkin’s power-play goal. With 36 points in 23 games, Hyman leads the B1G and is a potential Hobey Baker Award candidate. The Wolverines are 12-0-0 when Hyman scores a goal this season and will lean heavily on him Saturday if the offense continues to struggle against the Spartans.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Michigan State, Feb. 7.
MICHIGAN STATE (4-3-2, 10-11-2)
OVERVIEW: The Spartans have won three consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 26—Nov. 3, 2013 and will have a strong chance to extend that streak despite a tough matchup with UM. In two games this season, MSU has drastically limited the nation’s top offense and slowed them down with a commitment to defense. Outdoor games tend to be a slower, uglier type of game and that should favor the gritty Spartans. Goalie Jake Hildebrand has been stellar in his last three starts, stopping 84-of-86 shots and earning three straight wins. If the Spartans can get Hildebrand an early lead to work with — like they did in last Friday’s matchup — the junior goaltender should give his team a great chance to win.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior Brent Darnell has been an integral piece of the Spartans’ success this season. With five goals and 11 points in the last nine games, MSU is 6-1-2 when Darnell records a point this season. The 6-foot, 195-pound forward spent the majority of last Friday’s game matched up against UM’s top line and limited them to just one goal. The Canton, Mich., native is no stranger to outdoor games having played in the GLI last season at Comerica Park where MSU defeated UM 3-0 in the consolation game. Darnell tallied a goal in the win and could generate similar production, having had success in the past.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Michigan, Feb. 7.
MINNESOTA (3-2-3, 12-9-3)
OVERVIEW: Some defensive weaknesses were exposed last weekend as Minnesota gave up nine goals in two games to one of the nation’s worst offenses as Wisconsin averaged just 1.80 goals per game prior to the series. The Gophers were able to escape Madison, Wisc., with a 7-5 win and 4-4 tie as they return to Mariucci Arena for four straight home games. Minnesota is 39-6-7 at home since the 2012-13 season and will take on an Ohio State team that hasn’t defeated the Gophers since Dec. 28, 1998. Minnesota tapped into its secondary scoring as the team’s top five scorers were held without a goal, forcing production to come from other sources. Gophers Seth Ambroz, Jake Bischoff and Vinni Lettieri combined for seven goals against UW after combining for just six goals in the 22 games prior.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Forward Seth Ambroz recorded back-to-back multi-goal games against the Badgers last weekend, including a game-tying goal on Saturday with two seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Ambroz now has a goal in three of the last four games and has come up big when the Gophers needed a play. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior has played in 144 games for Minnesota including 73 consecutive appearances dating back to Mar. 1, 2013. A fifth-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011, Ambroz could match his career-long point streak of three games with a point against OSU on Friday.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Ohio State, Feb. 6-7.
OHIO STATE (2-6-0, 7-13-2)
OVERVIEW: Coming off of a bye week, the Buckeyes face a challenging matchup against the Gophers. Layoffs have done OSU well this season going 2-0-2 in games following an off-week but have lost the last four games and are winless against Minnesota in the last eight meetings. Even an offensively stagnant UW team was able to net nine goals in two games against the Gophers last weekend, which should be a promising sign for an OSU team that has struggled to score as well. Despite having the B1G’s worst power play converting on just 14.8 percent of its opportunities, OSU should have an opportunity to exploit a Minnesota PK unit that has allowed four power-play goals on 12 attempts in the last four games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Matthew Weis leads OSU’s freshman class with four goals and 13 points through 20 games this season. His six power-play points rank second on the team and Weis has recorded a point in five of the Buckeyes’ seven wins. The Freehold, N.J., native has recorded three goals and eight points in away games and the Buckeyes will need similar production from Weis if they are going to upset the Gophers on the road. However, his 21 penalty minutes are the third highest on the team and the young freshman will have to stay out of the box in order to have a positive impact on the game.
THIS WEEKEND: at Minnesota, Feb. 6-7.
PENN STATE (5-2-1, 13-7-4)
OVERVIEW: In six of the seven games during 2015, the Nittany Lions have trailed and in five of those six games, they have been behind by multiple goals. However, Penn State has come back to tie or go ahead in each game, going 3-1-2 in that stretch. Last Saturday’s win over No. 15 Vermont in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff was no exception as the Nittany Lions found themselves down 2-0 early before scoring four unanswered to win. Much of PSU’s success in 2015 can be credited to generating offense from the defense. The blue line has accounted for two goals and 13 points in the last five games, accounting for one-third of the entire team’s output. The PSU offense should continue to roll in this weekend’s series as UW has allowed four or more goals in 10 of the past 13 games, including 5-2 and 4-2 losses to PSU the last time these two teams met.
PLAYER TO WATCH: David Thompson became the third different PSU defenseman to score a goal this season. His strike with 3:09 left in regulation gave the Nittany Lions their first lead of the game against Vermont as Thompson finished with a plus-3 rating. The sophomore earned B1G third star of the week, becoming the seventh different Nittany Lion to earn the honor this season. Thompson’s three-game point streak is the longest of his young career and his five points in 18 games matches his total from a season ago. And while the offense is nice, it’s his commitment to defense that PSU thrives on the most as he is second on the team with 31 blocked shots.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 6-7.
WISCONSIN (0-6-2, 2-16-4)
OVERVIEW: The Badgers begin a stretch that includes four of the next five weekends on the road with a trip to Happy Valley. UW’s offense has produced four goals in three of the last four contests after managing just one four-goal game through the first 18 games of the season. The offense is turning a corner on this young team and the Badgers have found a bit of a groove so they should generate opportunities against a PSU team that gives up 31 shots per game. With the Nittany Lions susceptible to falling behind early, look for UW to capitalize and squeak out its first conference win of the season against one of the B1G’s top teams.
PLAYER TO WATCH: As the team’s leading scorer, Grant Besse has been a key component to the Badgers’ increase in offense. In the last six games, Besse has recorded six goals and eight points as UW has improved its offense to 2.83 goals per game, up from a mere 1.75 goals through the first 16 games of the season. The sophomore forward is 11th in the B1G with nine goals and has five multi-point games this season. Besse has just one goal and one assist in seven career games against PSU but has four points in the Badgers’ last four road games.
THIS WEEKEND: at Penn State, Feb. 6-7.
The Big Ten will descend on Joe Louis Arena for the first time from March 19-21 as the conference’s championship tournament will be staged in Detroit with all five games set to air live on the Big Ten Network. All-session ticket packages, which include one ticket to all five games of the tournament, start at $45, and are now on sale at the JLA box office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at OlympiaEntertainment.com.
The top two seeds entering the tournament receive byes through the opening-round games, which will take place March 19 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The semifinals are scheduled for March 20 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the championship game set to follow on March 21 at 8 p.m.