Ferris State-Union Notebook
Defensive Battle Looms
by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor
TAMPA, Fla. This is a game that, to use a football analogy, could be won and lost in the trenches. For Ferris State, forwards Eric Alexander (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) and converted defenseman Aaron Schmit (6-foot-4, 229 pounds) will lead the way.
"Both of them can play a physical brand," said Bulldog coach Bob Daniels. "We're going to need them against Union. They're big, they're strong and they use their bodies exceedingly well.
"I've had a chance to watch (Union) on tape. They're a team that positionally is — it's going to be hard to beat if you can't muscle your way to the front of the net.
"So we're going to need some of our big guys against Union to provide that muscle and provide that strength around their goal, because if we don't, we're going to find ourselves on the perimeter of the ice the entire night."
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"[Ferris's] defensive zone coverage is something we haven't seen before in that they swarm you and you really have to move that puck right away on a first touch," said Union coach Rick Bennett.
"And you have to talk. What I really mean by that is, if you go in the corner and two guys are on you, your teammate has to talk to you to know where you are to move that puck, because if you don't, you're going to be throwing it to someone. And it's not going to be in the Union colors."
"That's what stood out the most for me," said defenseman Nolan Julseth-White. "How they swarm our forwards or the forwards and their D zone. That just means the points are open a little bit more and maybe I'll pop my first one."
Julseth-White, a senior, enters the game with 18 career points — all assists. Thursday's national semifinal will be his 100th career game,
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"We knew the transition was going to be seamless," said Union goaltender Troy Grosenick, on the ascendancy of Bennett to head coach of the Dutchmen following the departure for Providence of Nate Leaman. "He definitely has a good pulse of the locker room. He kept the things that coach Leaman had put in place that started to grow the program, and then he built on that and brought a little bit of his own flavor in."
"Similar culture," said Jeremy Welsh. "Obviously, different personalities and different approaches to the game a little bit. I think we're a little more loose out there. Practices are a little more lighthearted and guys are a little more excitable out there."
"Good answers, guys," said Bennett.
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Ferris State has never beaten Union (0-4-0). The last meeting came on Oct. 12-13, 2007, a sweep by Union (2-0, 4-1). But this season, the Bulldogs are a perfect 7-0 against ECAC teams, including their win over Cornell in the Midwest Regional Final.
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One of the top matchups will be Union's fourth-ranked power play (24.3 percent) against Ferris State's sixth-ranked penalty kill (85.8 percent).
"We're really good in getting into the shot lane. So that's going to be key," said Ferris State's Jordie Johnston. "And really just not getting to the point where we run around, not getting stressed out out there, and just making smart, easy plays."
"People kept talking about our willingness to sacrifice our body and put ourselves in the line for the guy next to you," goaltender Taylor Nelson said. "Guys putting their bodies on the line. They understand the ramifications of a lost game — it's over. The season's done. This group of guys is such a tight-knit group of guys and we don't want this to end yet. We want to keep going."
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17 Florida natives played Division I hockey this year, but only one will be playing for an NCAA championship and in his home state. Union freshman defenseman Shane Gostisbehere hails from Margate, which is just outside Fort Lauderdale — about four hours from Tampa, which should ensure he'll have quite a contingent of family and friends in the stands at the Times Forum for Thursday's semifinal.
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"I spoke with a past professor at Ferris State University earlier in the week, and he had an interesting take on small school versus big school," said Daniels. "Say you end up running into a Minnesota in the finals. He said, they have a school of 40,000. The nice thing is, you're only playing 20 of their student-athletes. You don't have to play all 40,000.
"So size of school, I don't think, makes much of a difference. Certainly I'm sure Union feels the same way when we're a school of 12,000 students, we've got a very robust university."
"But when you take the ice, I don't think it really matters in regards to size. I think what really truly matters is if you look — this may be one of the best Frozen Fours from the standpoint that all four programs that are here ... won the regular season championship. And that means over a long haul these were the best four teams in the country, and I think they're all deserving to be here."
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Union's Julseth-White reflected on all of the media attention he and his teammates have had recently.
"About three weeks ago we were loading the bus and a reporter asked me, 'What are (your) expectations for the game tonight?' And the game was about two days away," said Julseth-White. "That's probably the most bizarre question I think I've had."
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Welsh was one of the players featured in the huge five story mural outside the Times Forum.
"Today we were driving in," Welsh said, "and I looked up to check it out, and the guys got on me about looking up at it. I said, you know what, guys? It's not every day I see myself on the side of a building."
"This morning I actually woke up and looked out the window of our hotel and saw this beautiful sunrise," said Julseth-White.
"And then, wham! There's Jeremy Welsh. I'm like, oh my gosh, living with him all summer and dealing with him all year, you think you could get away from him for just five minutes."
"It's definitely well deserved and we couldn't be happier for (him), but we'll still be busting his chops," said Grosenick.