Life of Riley, Bulldogs, Looking Up
by Nick Lowman/CHN Reporter
Being a "small market team," it's easy to miss what's been going on in Big Rapids, Michigan, this season. But Ferris State has posted an 11-0 mark on home ice and was perfect in the months of November and December (8-0-0-2).
While much of the attention is on disappointing Notre Dame and Michigan this season, the Bulldogs have been dynamic in every aspect of the game. Their goaltending is arguably the best in the nation and the high-octane offense can explode and make any game a lopsided tilt.
Anchoring the top-rated offense is senior left wing Blair Riley, who has come full stride this season as one of the premier forwards in the league.
Recently notching a career single-season high 15th goal, the Kamloops, British Columbia, native is ravaging opponents. In his last eight games, Riley has piled up 13 points (7 goals and 6 assists) and previously recorded his eighth multiple-point game of the season in a 5-1 win over Merrimack at the Badger Hockey Showdown.
“A lot of it has to do with my linemates, Cody Chupp and Casey Haines,” said Riley. “We’ve generated good chemistry and have the ability to create a lot of scoring chances. I’ve also had the opportunity to play in all situations. Coach (Bob Daniels) has given us a lot of power play time but also on the penalty killing unit.”
There’s no doubt that Riley has taken advantage of those opportunities. The Bulldogs boast the No. 1 penalty killing unit in the CCHA, and Riley leads the team with two shorthanded tallies. On the flip side, the power play has been just as lethal. Contributing three goals, Riley and his linemates have accounted for 35 percent of the power-play goals scored this season.
The resurgence of the Bulldogs has begun to take shape after a down season of a year ago. They are playing a more complete game that emphasizes a stronger two-way effort. They’ve learned to win close games; hold onto one-goal leads and do the little things that make a big difference, such as winning key face-offs and battles down low. Even more important, they have learned how to fight back after a poor effort.
“We are a mature and a team that is a little older this season so everyone knows what to do and how to bounce back,” said Riley. “The Yale game (a 6-1 loss to snap their unbeaten streak) was our worst effort of the year but I think we did a nice job of coming back the next day and getting the win against Merrimack.”
Inconsistency was the Achilles’ heal last season that lead to a disappointing year for Ferris State. However, the Bulldogs have quietly climbed back to the top of the standings where nobody expected them to be at.
“No one in our locker room is surprised,” said Riley. “Yeah, we didn’t have a good year last season with poor play and injuries, but we all know, including the coaching staff that were capable of having a good season and so far everything has come together. I know we weren’t picked to do well this season, but it’s the guys in the locker room who believe we can be competitive and so far we’re doing that.”
It’s hard to argue that the biggest boost of confidence came from the showdown in Oxford earlier this season, where Ferris State walked out of the Goggin` Ice Center with two shootout wins. Since then, they’ve gone unbeaten until a recent slip-up at the Badger Hockey Showdown.
“We’ve definitely been going off the confidence that we sustained earlier this season,” the senior left winger said. “Looking back at that Miami series, we realized that we can play with anyone and we know we have depth at all positions.”
Noticeably, Riley has taken his game to the next level and has been an absolute stud for the Bulldogs. He is a power forward that possesses an NHL-type shot and release and proven he can finish with the best of them. He has worked furiously in the offseason to better his game and right now it’s paying off.
“Going into this season I wanted to add some quickness and cut some weight,” said Riley. “I worked hard in the weight room, adding additional weight training regiments and increased the weight load to meet my goals.”
His fitness level has improved a body that is now NHL-caliber, 6-foot, 220 pounds and the results are showing. Hard to knock off the puck, the Bulldogs top goal getter isn’t afraid to take the puck to the net and create scoring chances.
“I think my physical size and taking pucks to the net are my biggest strengths,” said the senior sniper. “I like to try and create scoring opportunities for my linemates.”
He’s done just that as his line is one of the most dangerous in the league. And as Riley continues to rise this season, it would come as no surprise to see him garner some attention from an NHL club.
“I’m definitely interested in playing some kind of professional hockey in the future and hopefully I’ll get an opportunity,” said Riley. “But I’m focused on playing this season out and then we’ll see what happens.”