Team of the Week: Ferris State
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Ferris State coach Bob Daniels thought his team would be much improved this season, but it was hard for anyone — including him — to really tell after early-season wins were piled up against Canisius, Connecticut and Robert Morris.
Finally arriving at league play, the Bulldogs lost two games in Alaska, and to some, it seemed that was enough of an answer in how to judge those early wins. But not to Daniels. It was in losing that he himself came to believe that Ferris State's 2009-10 incarnation had the makings of a strong CCHA run.
The Bulldogs have not lost since.
"The early wins were important, and when we got back from Fairbanks, even though we lost, I felt we played really well," Daniels said. "I kinda felt like, 'OK, we can be pretty good.' ... We were disappointed we go no points, and the second night, we lost with 15 seconds left in overtime. The guys were down, but I said, 'We've got a pretty good team here.'
"I anticipated this would happen a year ago. We had guys who played well two years ago who were freshmen and sophomores. The pieces were in place, but it didn't happen."
You can certainly point to many factors for the improvement — and it's coming from all phases of the game. But one place to start up front, where senior Blair Riley has exploded. He went from a promising sophomore season to a disappoint junior one — but he's put it together this year, and is among the nation's leaders with 13 goals.
"He always had the potential to be a scorer," Daniels said. "He's got a great shot, a quick release. You could see that from the day he came here. It took a while to adjust to the college game, and he started to break out in his sophomore year.
"What happens is, some guys think they then have it figured out, and don't need to do the same things in the summer to get ready. He took it for granted. He thought he'd pick up where he left off, but he didn't. It was an eye opener. He went back to basics, and he came back this year in great shape."
Riley plays mainly with fellow seniors Cody Chupp and Casey Haines; those three comprise the team's top three scorers.
"They are all strong," Daniels said. "They can sustain long periods of time in the opponent's zone."
The goaltending and defense go in tandem, as they often do. Last season, there were four freshmen on defense — Tommy Hill, Chad Billins, Aaron Schmidt and Michael Trebish — as Pat Nagle and Taylor Nelson rotated in goal. Nagle, now a junior, got slightly more playing time down the stretch than Nelson, now a sophomore.
This year, however, with those freshmen defenders a year old, and the goaltenders a year better, the goals allowed per game has dropped significantly across the board. Nelson's save percentage has gone from .912 to .942, while Nagle has gone from .909 to .933.
"It's a good horse race right now," Daniels said. "I told them I'm not inclined to continue to split the time. I'd like to get it down to one. I never expected both to get hot like that.
"We haven't made up our minds, but Taylor is leaning towards being the guy."
Nelson became the first of the pair to play an entire weekend this season, when he won both games against Nebraska-Omaha.
This run is beginning to look like the 2003 run, which led to 31 wins and featured Hobey Baker Award finalist Chris Kunitz, who has, of course, gone on to a quality NHL career.
Daniels always was confident the program had another run like that coming, and would actually like to see the cycle narrow down. FSU can't reload like the big programs can, but Daniels sees no reason why it can't always be competitive, with the occasional big year — especially with the way the playing field is leveling a bit, thanks to so many major junior and pro defections.
"The bigger schools have an advantage with an ability to recruit on a more national scale," Daniels said. "Some advantages prove to be disadvantages at times, with players leaving. I do think we've had our moments in the sun and we will continue to have them. But your team has to put itself in position to take advantage [when the other teams drop]."
Rumors that Ferris State may be in trouble were nothing but speculation, Daniels said, based upon Bowling Green's economic troubles. But, as Daniels pointed out, Ferris State has doubled enrollment in the last 10 years and is going well.
"We've almost been the beneficiary (of economic trouble)," Daniels said. " We have career-based education programs. So we're booming here. ... Our recruiting is based on the educational opportunities here. The kids don't need to wait another two years for a masters to be employable."