Ferris State One Win From First Frozen Four
by Zach Helfand/CHN Reporter
GREEN BAY, Wis. Ferris State, Bob Daniels, Frozen Four bid on the line, take two.
And ... action.
With a 2-1 win against Denver on Friday, Ferris State moved to the precipice of the Frozen Four for the second time in its history. The first time, in 2003, the Bulldogs lost in the second round.
But they say this time will be different.
The last time around, Daniels, the Ferris State coach, said that he was nervous — too nervous. And that apprehension rubbed off on his players.
Of course, it didn't help that after cruising to a first-round win over North Dakota by three goals, the Bulldogs drew eventual-national champion Minnesota. And the fact that the game was played in front of 10,000 rowdy Golden Gopher supporters in Mariucci Arena probably didn't ease any nerves.
This year, the closest team is a hefty eight-hour drive away from the Resch Center.
"I was glad that this time, this is truly a neutral site," Daniels said. "There were a lot of adjustments that (the 2003) team had to make that we're not going to have to this trip."
So there's difference number one.
But the concentration, too, has changed. During Thursday's press conference, Ferris State's Chad Billins, Jordie Johnston and Taylor Nelson looked focused, and it reflected on the ice on Friday. You can credit that to a painful exit in the second round of the CCHA playoffs to last-place Bowling Green.
"We didn't want one weekend to define what was really a great season," Daniels said.
And that meant not being satisfied with a first-place finish in the CCHA regular season.
"(We're) extremely excited to be here to play in this tournament and put our names in Ferris State hockey history, with this being only the second time being here in the NCAA Tournament,” said Nelson. "But, at the same time, ... we’re looking for wins. We're not looking just to say, 'Hey we made the NCAA Tournament.' It’s a great feeling, but we want to win this regional and move on.
"That would really etch our names in school history."
On Friday, Ferris took another step toward that goal, and they did it their way.
The Bulldogs smothered the potent Denver offense, limiting the Pioneers to just one goal on 26 shots. All of Denver's wins this postseason came when scoring three or more goals.
Ferris State killed penalties, blocked shots and, critically, slowed Denver down in transition. Coming into the game, Daniels indicated that the transition game would be a key, since the Pioneers are capable of turning a game around with quick strikes off turnovers.
But Ferris State didn't give them any chances. Offensively, the Bulldogs were smart with the puck, and, when they did turn the puck over, they turned it over deep in Denver's zone.
"We just made sure we had to keep our gaps up as defenseman and try to make them dump the puck," Billins said. "It seemed like if they had an opportunity, Taylor (Nelson) was there to help us out."
In the net, Nelson shined, making several when he was left alone with the puck-handler
Ferris State's first goal came in the second period when Garrett Thompson took the puck down the boards and below the goals before dishing to Johnston, who easily converted from point-blank range.
The Bulldogs' second tally came from an unlikely source. Defenseman Simon Denis took a wrister from the slot that beat Denver goaltender Sam Brittain for his first career goal.
Ferris State held off a furious rally by Denver late in the third period to hold on for the victory. During that stretch, Daniels said he was as nervous as he's been in a while.
But don't let that fool you. He's sure that it's not the same nerves as in 2003.
"That year, I don't think I enjoyed it as much ... this year I made sure when we came here to just enjoy the experience. I'm so proud of what this team has accomplished this last season."
Even so, Johnston said that Ferris State is only 50 percent satisfied with what they've accomplished this season. They won't be, not until they exit Green Bay with another win.
And his teammates agreed.
"It's great that we’re in company (with the 2003 team), but we really want to push forward," Nelson said. "We want to win (Saturday) and put ourselves in another level. And it's special for the program that we were able to do what we did today, and by no means are we going to roll over just because we've tied that mark."