Defense expected to provide the foundation for Ferris State

Bob Daniels is beginning the 2010-11 season with the same question he had a year ago: Who’s going to score for Ferris State? He and the Bulldogs hope that the answer this year is as satisfying as it was last season.

When 2009-10 began for the Bulldogs, they had just completed a year in which FSU’s offense was ranked 46th in the nation. At the end of last season, the Bulldogs had climbed to 28th — no small feat and one factor that helped FSU finish third in the league.

“I had felt Blair Riley had a chance for a breakout year even though he was only coming as a junior [having scored] one conference goal,” Daniels said. “There were a lot of question marks. Casey Haines was a career third-line center for us. I think as we look at this year, we have the same thing, we have the same possibilities of some other players to emerge.”

Now Riley, Haines, Cody Chupp and Aaron Lewicki have graduated — and have taken 51 of FSU’s 118 goals with them. Daniels said he looks to seniors Mike Embach, Justin Menke and Todd Pococke, responsible for 22 goals last season, to emerge. “I think all three of those players are big, they’re strong, and I think they can step up and score and show up on a consistent basis on the score sheet,” he said.

As much of a question as the offense poses for the Bulldogs, so much is certain defensively. FSU had the third-best defense nationally last year because of a strong defensive corps, excellent team defense and masterful goaltending provided by Pat Nagle and Taylor Nelson.

“We return two goaltenders who for the most part split the games last year,” Daniels said. “At the end of the season, Pat obviously took over the reins but we’re starting the season with a healthy competition between the two again.

“If you look at the preseason CCHA selections, you see [defenseman] Zach Redmond as a first-team selection and you see Pat Nagle as second-team, so we feel like the defense and goaltending we have returning, those two positions are top-four positions within the league.”

The Bulldogs return the top penalty-killing unit in the nation, minus Matt Case. “Penalty killing starts with your goaltending, and obviously with two goaltenders that had very good years last year, our penalty killing relied heavily on our goaltending,” Daniels said. “But I do feel we have strong defensemen.”

And, as it turned out, FSU needed an excellent PK, something Daniels wants to change. “I can say, though, that one of the areas of disappointment for us a year ago — and it was primarily in the first half of the season — was the number of penalties we did take.

“This year, we would like to start off where we finished last season; we don’t want to start off where we started. We want to stay out of the box. In particular last year, as I look back, I would say in the first 15 games, we had to be leading the country in hitting from behind and giving up five-on-three opportunities. Even though our penalty kill is good, we have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to penalization of the team.”