Ferris State may have ended last season with a 4-1 loss to Boston College, but the Bulldogs did play until the very last game of the season — and who would’ve thought it?
Not coach Bob Daniels.
“We felt that we were better than the preseason polls indicated a year ago, and we felt that we could have a very good season, but we didn’t anticipate the type of year that we had, either,” Daniels said. “What you can take from it is that you never really know when your time’s going to come and I feel the same way about this season.”
As any coach who’s been there will tell you, playing in the Frozen Four changes everything for a team. One of the things that Daniels does not want to change, however, is Ferris State’s approach to the game.
“I guess our expectations this year are no different than what they were going into last year and the year prior to that,” Daniels said. “We’ve always felt that we can be an upper-division team in terms of a finish of the regular season, get home ice in the playoffs, make it and advance to Joe Louis [Arena], then we’ll have a chance of hitting our final goal, and that would be getting an NCAA bid.
“While last year was a great season and [we can] maybe build on that and maybe prove that what we did a year ago we can do again or duplicate, our goals haven’t changed at all from what they were going into last season.”
In their defense of their regular-season title and their quest to return to the Frozen Four, the Bulldogs return a young team that has gained a lot of experience that Daniels calls “very beneficial.”
“Up front is going to be the strength of our team, at least on paper,” Daniels said. “As I look, we’re really two lines or three lines deep on veteran forwards. As we look back toward our defense and goal thing, that’s where the question marks arise. We graduated four seniors from last year, defensemen, as well as our netminder Taylor Nelson.”
Offensively, Ferris State returns seniors Matt Kirzinger and Kyle Bonis and junior Garrett Thompson and their collective 40 goals. There are several other players who can contribute up front, like senior Eric Alexander and junior Cory Kane.
“Although we have a lot of quality returning forwards,” Daniels said, “it’s going to be the ability of our incoming freshman defensemen and our returning defensemen … to move the puck, to break it out of our end, to utilize our veteran forwards.”
Daniels is looking to sophomore C.J. Motte to shoulder more of the goaltending after the departure of senior Nelson. Motte played 12 games last season with a .925 save percentage.
“We’re fortunate that we have C.J. Motte, who was a freshman last year, waiting in the wings,” Daniels said. “His save percentage and goals against weren’t a whole lot different from Taylor’s. The number that jumps out at you that was different was winning percentage, and that was just around .500.”
The one things that Daniels and the Bulldogs probably would change from a season ago would be having to sit out the CCHA championship tournament. The Mason Cup is as compelling a goal for Daniels as anything else on the agenda.
About the Bulldogs
2011-12 overall record: 26-12-5
2011-12 CCHA record: 16-7-5-1 (first)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fifth
Key losses: F Jordie Johnston, D Chad Billins, G Taylor Nelson
Players to watch: F Kyle Bonis, F Matthew Kirzinger, F Garrett Thompson, G C.J. Motte
Impact rookie: F Ken Babinski
Why the Bulldogs will finish higher than the coaches poll: The Bulldogs have the experience of having played in the national championship game after sitting out the CCHA championship. They learned a lot.
Why the Bulldogs will finish lower than the coaches poll: Key players who helped engineer last year’s run to the title game are gone, and the team welcomes eight rookies.