David And Goliath

Welcome to Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena, home of the Ferris State Bulldogs.

Normally, the building is quiet, on the outside, at least. On this particular day, though, the noise is noticeable from the parking lot. A banging sound from across the way — there, a local car dealership has a junker automobile on display. It’s been painted in Wolverine maize and blue, or maybe Spartan green and white.

The sign reads “$1 per hit,” and students are taking turns walloping the car with a sledgehammer.

Entering the building, there is a larger-than-normal crowd out in the concourse, milling about and talking about the game at hand.

In what is sometimes a half-empty arena, almost every seat is filled. Standing room only sections are in the corners of the rink. The field of view from that vantage point is not the best in this small arena, but even those “seats” were sold out days in advance. The student section is armed with air horns and other noisemaking items, making the atmosphere closer to a New Year’s Eve party than a hockey game.

When big-market teams come to the small markets to play, it makes the atmosphere a little more exciting. That can easily be measured at Ferris State, where the fans and the hometown crowd gather for an intense game when Michigan, Michigan State and their like come to play.

Fans in the student section expressed their excitement before the Michigan-Ferris State game on Oct. 29.

“Michigan is a good team,” Ferris State student David Callahan said. “The school does a great job on the presentation of the game. Beating a team like Michigan makes it a good year. The game is just huge. Some of their fans think they are going to walk over us, and here at our home rink the fans can make such a big difference.”

“This is our home team, but more important it is our hometown team,” fellow student Ron Lovelace said. “It is a David and Goliath story. The Michigan and Michigan State games are the ones I don’t miss.”

The administration at Ferris State is likewise responsible for going the extra mile to make these games more exciting. Brian Kegler, the assistant athletic director, works closely with the students, administration, and the arena to make it happen.

“The games sell out on their own,” Kegler said. “We don’t need to advertise heavily to get the students in here. For these games, we pull out all the stops. When Michigan came last year, we got noise sticks. This time around, we gave pom-poms to everyone.”

Normally, the rink sells over half of its capacity of 2,493, a number capable of producing a boisterous crowd. But when all the seats are filled, it brings something more to the atmosphere — the true benefit of home ice.

“It’s not easy to play here,” Kegler said. “It just gets downright loud in here. The building is small, and when it is sold out, it is like we are right on top of the other team. I know when the students are energized like that, it is a real adrenaline shot in the arm for our team.

“Psychologically, we do think [the big-market games] are important,” Kegler added. “However, I am sure if you talked to the players, coaches, and hockey fans who come here everyday, they are all important games.

“It does bring all the athletes to the forefront when Michigan and Michigan State comes to play.”

Competing in the CCHA gives Ferris State that opportunity, and head coach Bob Daniels has labored to make sure the Bulldogs stay contenders.

“In the last five years, I am sure others are happy with the results of coach Bob Daniels’ changes he has made to the program,” Kegler said. “He is looking more for speed and chemistry now instead of size. Overall though, we are looking for the student-athlete that will represent Ferris State University in a positive light.”

Daniels has always appreciated the support of not just the administration, but also the fans who love the team.

“Michigan, Michigan State, and [neighboring] Western Michigan really draw the crowds in here,” said Daniels. “When we hear the fans cheering and encouraging us before, during, and after the game, it is a real shot in the arm for our club. When you play any home game, the fans are a great ‘extra man’ for us while we are out there giving it our all.”