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College Hockey:
Can defense win games? Maybe, say Bulldogs

TAMPA, Fla. – All four teams in this year’s Frozen Four have top-10 defenses. Union and Boston College are Nos. 1 and 2, Ferris State is tied for fifth and Minnesota is ninth.

Three of the Frozen Four teams also have offenses among the top 10: No. 1 Minnesota (3.67 goals per game), No. 4 Union (3.55) and No. 6 Boston College (3.50).

Then there’s Ferris State, with the 21st-best offense nationally, averaging 2.93 goals per game. Do the Bulldogs think that’s a concern this weekend?

“If we were not in the top 10 defensively that would matter,” said coach Bob Daniels. “By being a good, strong, defensive team with a good goaltender — you’ve got to have a good goaltender — that gives us the opportunity to win every time we lace it up and play. I don’t know how a team can make it to this part of the year without having a good goalie starting. Then you’ve got watch your P’s and Q’s defensively.”

The Bulldogs are backstopped by senior Taylor Nelson (2.10 goals against average, .923 save percentage). Nelson, who split time in the FSU net for the first half of the season with freshman CJ Motte, is 20-6-3 this season; he’s 13-2-3 since Jan. 1.

Daniels said that the Bulldogs won’t have to rely solely on defense, though.

“We’ve got enough scoring,” he said. “The nice thing about our team is that we have it spread out to so many players. Let’s say for instance that we depend on two or three players and they have an off night, or one line and they have an off night. Then we’re done for that night. The fact that we can play good defense that can keep us in the game and then we have a cast of players with the ability to step up and score, then that allows us a really good opportunity to win.”

Senior Jordie Johnston (20-16–36) leads Ferris State in scoring, part of the team’s top line that also includes juniors Matthew Kirzinger (10-24–34) and Kyle Bonis (18-11–29). The three are the only Bulldogs players with 10 or more goals each.

Johnston is having a career season. In 93 games in his first three seasons, Johnston had 10 goals. In 165 games in three seasons with the La Ronge Ice Wolves in Saskatchewan, Johnston had 90 goals. The late blooming is something of a mystery to Daniels.

“You could see it in practice,” said Daniels. “He had the pedigree before he got to Ferris. He was a leading — if not the leading — scorer in the Saskatchewan junior league. All signs pointed to a kid that should be able to score. It was disappointing.

“I think he gained a lot of confidence through his own hard work and his self belief. This year, we moved him from center to left wing and we then moved Matt Kirzinger from wing to center and I think it really helped both their games, and yet they played together before with Jordie in the middle. We stumbled into it. I don’t know what happened, but it seemed to click.”

The nature of Ferris State itself may have had something to do with it, said Daniels.

“In our program, we have kids for four years,” he said. “We don’t lose too many to pros, we don’t have many kids leave our program, and what happens is that sometimes some kids have to wait a little bit [for] their turn.”

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