Scoring may be a challenge for the Ferris State Bulldogs early in 2013-14 after the departure of their two leading scorers from a year ago.
However, scoring on the Bulldogs may be the even bigger challenge for the members of the new-look WCHA with all eight defensemen plus junior starting goaltender CJ Motte back in crimson and gold.
Junior all-WCHA preseason pick Jason Binkley, junior Simon Denis, sophomore Brandon Anselmini and senior captain Scott Czarnowczan are the core of the Bulldogs’ defensemen, and coach Bob Daniels wouldn’t trade the group for any in college hockey.
“That’s a group of four defensemen right there that I think will be as good as what anyone in college hockey would have as top four defensemen,” Daniels said heading into his 22nd season in Big Rapids.
“The strength of our team is going to be our defensemen.”
Daniels isn’t just asking for his defensive group to clog up opposing offenses. The Bulldogs’ all-time winningest coach is turning to his defensemen to jump start the offense after the graduation of Kyle Bonis, Travis Ouellette and the 30 goals they combined to score last season.
With senior Garrett Thompson being the only returning Bulldogs player to have scored double-digit goals last season — 11 — double-digit assist players such as Binkley (18) and Denis (14) will have to help Ferris create offense, at least early on, Daniels said.
“We’ve always seemed to be blessed with having a defensemen or two that are able to put points on the board,” Daniels said, pointing to current Winnipeg Jets player Zach Redmond (2007-11) and Calgary Flames prospect Chad Billins (2008-12)
“This year it looks like we may not have quite to the extent a Redmond or Billins, but it looks like we have a deeper group of defenseman that can create offense.
“We have a lot of creativity in that position, a lot of guys who have put up some points as defensemen, so we can generate some offense from our blue line.”
The Bulldogs, whose scoring offense ranked third in the CCHA last year at 2.59 goals per game, may not need to score at will with Motte in goal.
After posting a 1.98 GAA and .925 save percentage in 12 games as a freshman, Motte played 35 of 37 games last year, finishing with a 2.19 GAA and .923 save percentage.
“Really, if it wasn’t for CJ last year, we wouldn’t have had as good of a team as we had,” Daniels said.
“Quite often we played four freshman defensemen a year ago and CJ really stood tall and allowed us to get our legs underneath us and have an OK season.”
About the Bulldogs
2012-13 overall record: 16-16-5
2012-13 CCHA record: 13-12-3 (fifth)
2013-14 predicted finish: Second
Key losses: F Kyle Bonis, F Travis Ouellette
Players to watch: G CJ Motte, D Jason Binkley, D Simon Denis
Impact rookies: F Gerald Mayhew, F Jared VanWormer
Why the Bulldogs will finish higher than predicted: Junior goaltender Motte, who finished with a 2.19 GAA and .927 save percentage in the CCHA, and an experienced group of blueliners will frustrate the WCHA this season by keeping games tight. Junior defensemen Binkley and Denis may be the two best defensemen in the WCHA.
Why the Bulldogs will finish lower than predicted: FSU’s top two returning scorers from last year — Bonis and Ouellette — are gone, leaving senior Garrett Thompson as the team’s only returning double-digit goal scorer. Motte and the defense will keep games tight, but in whose favor?