Been Here Before: Famulak Offers Title Game Experience For Ferris
Bulldogs' Associate Head Coach named Nation's Top Assistant
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Tampa, Fla. In sunny Tampa, over 1,300 miles south of Big Rapids, Mich. — home of Ferris State University and Ewigleben Ice Arena — the experience of the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four has been, overall, an unfamiliar experience for the Bulldogs, their program, and their fans.
This is, after all, Ferris State's first NCAA Frozen Four appearance and also the first for Bob Daniels, who has been the Bulldogs' head coach since the 1992-93 season, and was recently awarded his second Spencer Penrose Award as the nation's Coach of the Year.
But for associate head coach Drew Famulak, now in his 19th year as a member of the Ferris State hockey program's coaching staff, the Frozen Four isn't exactly a brand new experience.
Famulak, who was promoted to the associate head coach position in August 2003, played right-wing for Lake Superior State's 1988 NCAA Division I championship team. That season, under the direction of Division I Coach of the Year Frank Anzalone, the Lakers overcame St. Lawrence 4-3 in overtime behind a championship-winning goal by Mark Vermette.
"I have tons of respect for [Famulak]," said Ferris State junior forward Kyle Bonis, who scored the game-winning goal in the Bulldogs' national semifinal win over Union. "He does such a great job with not only recruiting but being an outlet for players. He's such a great source, especially in times like this, because this is all new to us — new and exciting. He's kind of the steadying influence."
Famulak transferred out of Lake State after his sophomore year and went on to win a pair of NCAA Divison III championships with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Still, despite a D-I national title to his name, Saturday's championship game will mark Famulak's first time actually on the bench for a Division I title.
The associate coach was a healthy scratch in the '88 championship tilt.
"It's 25 years ago, and at that time, it was in Lake Placid," said Famulak. "I never played in that final game. I was a healthy scratch at that point. But I'm just happy for our guys to come and play and get a chance to compete for a national title.
"Not only is it exciting for our guys, but I'm really excited for Ferris State University. For an institution, it's just wonderful for Feris State to have the limelight at this point."
This year, Famulak has been honored as the 2012 Terry Flanagan Award recipient, chosen by the American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA). The honor goes to only one assistant coach across the country each year and is as much a recognition of a career body of work for Famulak as it is for the Bulldogs' impressive 2011-12 campaign.
Famulak will receive the award at the annual convention in April in Naples, Fla.
Said Famulak, "It's funny — I'm honored, I'm humbled. When you're on the road recruiting and you see the time and the effort from the other coaching staffs — it's just a great honor."
Under Famulak, who also serves as Ferris State's recruiting coordinator, the Bulldogs have recruited hard-working talent — the type of blue-collar work ethic and character that typifies the Bulldog program. That includes, of course, 2003 Hobey Hat Trick finalist and All-American Chris Kunitz, now a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 2002-03 edition of the Bulldogs posted the best record in program history — 31-10-1 overall — and Famulak was part of a coaching staff that was recognized as the American Hockey Coaches Association's (AHCA) 2002-03 National Coaching Staff of the Year.
Thorugh the year, on the bench next to Daniels, Famulak's contribution has been widespread. After all, he keeps an eye on just about everything.
"On the bench, I'm jotting down different things, system-wise," said Famulak. "I'm charting lines, seeing what they're doing on the ice and the lines that they're putting on the ice on a continous basis. And anything that Coach wants me to do in terms of looking for things. I'll jot them down, so that we can bring them together as a group after the intermission."
Prior to joining the coaching staff at Ferris State, Famulak served as an assistant for two years (1990-92) at Miami, where he helped recruit the freshmen class for the RedHawks' 1993 CCHA champions. Famulak then served as head coach and general manager for the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) for one season before joining Daniels — then just a first-year head coach — in Big Rapids.
Famulak was inducted into the Lake Superior State Athletics Hall of Fame as a member of the Lakers' 1987-88 national championship team on Oct. 22, 2005.
"I've been fortunate," said Famulak. "I played for Coach Anzalone, I played for [former Harvard head coach] Mark Mazzoleni at Stevens Point, worked for Coach Gwozdecky at Miami, and now with Bob Daniels. The one thing about Coach Daniels is he's really good at thinking outside the box. He's tweaked our team, and he's done some things that maybe aren't as conventional as other teams. So the one thing I take from him is 'Look outside the box.' Because there are different ways to do different things to be successful."
Impressively, Famulak has stuck around under Daniels for almost two full decades — dedicated to the art of recruiting players in a state in which the "best" players are often poached by the bigger names — Michigan and Michigan State, among others. The Bulldogs have no NHL draft picks on their team, but that hasn't thwarted their run to the 2012 national championship game at all.
"It's funny, we have a lot of Michigan kids," said Famulak. "But the one thing about every one of them is that they all wanted to be a Bulldog. That makes life a lot easier. Kids are coming, one, to get a very good degree from Ferris State. But two, they want to be Bulldogs, and they want to compete. They know the rivalries. They know what it's like to play Michigan and Michigan State from a young age, so that helps us as well"
During Famulak's long tenure in Big Rapids, the Ferris State program has served as a stepping stone for former players and assistants who now hold current Division I coaching positions — among them, head coach Seth Appert (Rensselaer) and assistants Trevor Large (Army), Tim Christian (Lake Superior), and Jamie Russell (Providence).
Large was a member of the 2002-03 Ferris State squad under Daniels and Famulak.
Reflected Famulak, "When you see what Coach Daniels has done in terms of mentoring people and putting them in the positions they are, it's very impressive."
Has Famulak himself considered other opportunities himself?
"I really like it at Ferris State," said Famulak. "They've been very, very loyal to me, and in turn, I like working for coach Bob Daniels. He's well-respected. And Mark Kauffman, our other assistant, he's been in the National Hockey League [as an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks]. I'm learning from those guys every day, and at the end of the day, you want to always be learning to be successful."
On Saturday, the Bulldogs look for continued success as they face the No. 1 team in the nation, Boston College, in a showdown for the 2012 national championship. The Eagles are seeking their 19th consecutive win, three shy of the program record, and their fourth national title since 2001.
On the other side, the entire experience will, again, be mostly unfamiliar for most of the Bulldog players.
But at least there's still some experience on their side — in Famulak, standing on the bench behind them.