Ferris State's Day Off
Bulldogs Practice One Final Time Before Championship Game
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
TAMPA, Fla. Among the notable alumni from Ferris State University is Al Jardine, a founding member of and guitarist for The Beach Boys, and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Fitting, then, that Jardine's alma mater is readying itself to play for a national championship — which would be the first for any sport in Ferris State history — just minutes from the beach, on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Any chance of the Bulldogs heading to the beach to relax before the title game?
"No, I don't think so," said senior forward Jordie Johnston, smiling. "I don't think Coach would want us getting too much sun."
On Friday, following a hard-fought 3-1 win over Union in the national semifinals, the Bulldogs took the ice again, for one final practice of their remarkable 2011-12 season that has brought them to the brink of a once-unthinkable conclusion, a national championship.
With that weight on their shoulders, Johnston and his teammates prepared to take the rest of the day off.
"We have some time off this afternoon from about one to four, so that's when you go see your family, do what you want, and enjoy the city — stuff like that, take it all in," said Johnston, the team's leading goal scorer. "Then we have some banquets tonight. We'll eat as a team, and it's business from then on. No time with the family. Just straight hockey, and that's kind of the right way to do it. You get the fun out of the way, and then you get right down to business."
Of course, this is all new for Ferris State. Never before have the Bulldogs had the opportunity to set a precedent for how to act, how to behave, in this situation. Understandbly, then, there were nerves heading into the first Frozen Four in school history.
Johnston, at least, hopes those nerves have dissipated by now.
"Today I think everyone's pretty nerve free," said Johnston. "Today's mood is just excitement. Everyone's really happy with what we did yesterday. The nerves will start getting us maybe a little bit tonight, and obviously a little bit more tomorrow. But I think for the most part, we'll be able to shut those nerves out."
Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels, however, offered a more realistic assessment.
"I don't want them scared, but at the same times, we can't go out there and play loose," said the Division I Coach of the Year, now 4-1 all-time in NCAA tournament games. "Because if we do, we're going to have big problems. I don't think we'll be loose. We will be nervous. It's easy today right now, over 24 hours from the drop of the puck, to say that the nerves are gone. But by the time we get to three o'clock tomorrow afternoon, the nerves are going to be back. I know it, and the players will know it. But they key is, we will have to get through the first 10 minutes of the game and then settle into a rhythm."
Friday's practice offered one final opportunity for the Bulldogs to practice with one another before Saturday's matchup against Boston College — just their third game against a Hockey East school since the start of 2007. In the days leading up to the NCAA tournament, Daniels focused on one specific area of his team's play — be it special teams, or defensive zone coverage — in each practice, in order to refine the details that have ultimately led the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four.
By now, of course, the details have been covered countless times. Friday's practice was, as a result, more relaxed.
"Today was probably the calmest we've been," said Daniels. "It was good to play a game and get some energy out last night. But today, it was just handling pucks, skating. We had designed one kind of practice last night as a coaching staff. And we woke up this morning and kind of shook our heads and thought, 'No this isn't going to work. There's no way we can turn around and have the guys start battling again. It's just not going to happen.'
"So it was just some flow drills, let them get out on the ice. We had to remind ourselves as coaches that they just played a pretty hard fought game last night. Probably not overdoing it was the recipe more than overdoing it."
Now, all that's left for Ferris State — picked to finish ninth in the CCHA standings before the season began before ultimately winning the league's regular season title — is one final game, with the championship trophy rinkside, awaiting the victor.
Indeed, for any player in college hockey, it's what dream's are made of.
"I'm pretty good at getting a good night's sleep before a game," said Johnston. "Obviously this one's of a little bigger magnitude. So it might be a little harder. But I'm ready for the game on Saturday night, and I think I'll be able to get some sleep.
"But there'll definitely be some dreaming, I think. Hopefully we can make some of those dreams come true on Saturday."