One And Done?
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
TAMPA, Fla. Ferris State's remarkable march to the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four ended with a 4-1 loss to Boston College on Saturday in the national championship game.
And although the Eagles were the final team of the 2011-12 college hockey season to skate off the ice, the Bulldogs were, nevertheless, still right there at the end as well, skating off the rink at the Tampa Bay Times Forum after falling short in a moment not many — and perhaps, outside of Big Rapids, not any — expected them to be in when the season began.
Ferris State had, after all, been picked to finish ninth in the CCHA before the season began. Under head coach Bob Daniels, the Bulldogs responded by winning the conference's regular-season championship.
They were then written off by media members all over the country, as they headed to an NCAA regional featuring national powerhouses Michigan, Denver and Cornell — all of which have won NCAA championships in the past.
The Bulldogs responded again, surviving the regional, toppling Union in the national semifinals, and played the eventual champion Eagles to the wire.
Within minutes of a season ending is not usually the best time to evaluate the hard work and accomplishments of an entire season, especially one like Ferris State just had — let alone wonder if something like this might be possible.
But a mature group of seniors from Ferris tried to do just that.
"What a year," said goaltender Taylor Nelson, who was named a First Team All-American on the eve of the national title game. "What a year we've had, and I'm extremely proud of every individual in that locker room. And I can honestly say I can look at each player in that room and know that no one left anything on the table.
"And I think that's what's really special about this team. All season long, we sacrificed for one another. We bled for one another."
Ferris State ultimately enjoyed a 26-win season, which trails only the 31 wins of the 2002-03 Bulldogs team that fell short of the Frozen Four. The 27th win, on the line in the title game against BC, not surprisingly proved to be the toughest.
The question afterwards, then, is whether future Ferris State teams can return to this stage again. Or if, conversely, the Bulldogs represent a "one and done" team, this season's appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four an aberration.
"I don't think so," said senior Jordie Johnston in response. "There's so much leadership in that room. I don't see this team being a one-and-done kind of thing. There's a lot of guys that will step up, even more next year. I'm sure of it."
Naming junior Kyle Bonis and goaltender C.J. Motte, among others, Johnston continued, "I think those kids in that locker room are going to make this a special program the next few years."
One individual with appropriate perspective, perhaps, in this situation is Daniels. He is the winningest coach in program history and in fact has held that distinction for over 12 years. This year, Daniels was named the Spencer Penrose Award recipient as the nation's Division I Coach of the Year.
After the game and the season ended, Daniels had the opportunity to address his team privately behind closed doors,
"At certain times, I get very emotional," said Daniels. "You get in the locker room, and even the teams that have struggled, everyone goes through the trials and tribulations, just a million things that happen throughout the course of the year. And you tend to get emotional in the locker room. And I refused to get emotional — well, not refused. It was just hard to get emotional because the kids have taken us to such heights for so long, it's almost like it's drained the emotion out of me.
"I just told them that I look forward to, I think in 10 years, maybe a reunion at a Hall of Fame induction for this team."
Whether the 2011-12 season proves to be a variant from the norm for Ferris State, which prepares to join the new-look WCHA in the fall of 2013' or whether the Bulldogs continue to perform at this highest level remains to be seen.
Some things, though, are for sure. On Saturday night, on the final night of the season, the Bulldogs competed, as their coach said, "as good as we can play" in a game that was 2-1 in favor of BC until freshman Johnny Gaudreau scored a highlight reel backhanded over Taylor Nelson's shoulder, thereby confirming the Eagles' title and providing the proverbial exclamation mark to a 19-0 streak that ranks among the greatest performances in college hockey history.
After all, as fans in the Boston area and those who followed the 2007-08 New England Patriots know, an 18-0 run is meaningless historically unless a championship follows.
That was the kind of history-in-the-making facing Ferris State.
All it did — in the face of that and much more — was make history of its own.