Ferris State won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title and earned a first-round bye for its conference tournament. The Bulldogs were the favorites heading into their quarterfinal matchup against 11th-seeded Bowling Green.
But the Falcons, who finished last in the CCHA, spoiled the Bulldogs’ dreams of traveling across state to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for the championship round by winning the series in three games. Even though Ferris State was assured of an at-large berth, thanks to its regular-season performance, it was tough to miss out on a chance at winning the CCHA tournament title and earning the NCAA automatic bid.
Not long after that, Ferris State coach Bob Daniels got a call from someone whose team experienced a similar situation. Former Union coach Nate Leaman spoke to Daniels about what his top-seeded Dutchmen went through after last season’s upset loss to 12th-seeded Colgate in the ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinals. That loss gave the Dutchmen a week off before they played in the NCAA hockey tournament East Regional.
Leaman’s chat was very helpful to Daniels. After a week off, the Bulldogs bounced back and won the Midwest Regional, beating Denver, 2-1, in Friday’s semifinal and Cornell, 2-1, in Saturday’s final.
Now, the Bulldogs (25-11-5) are preparing to face Leaman’s old team in the Frozen Four. Union (26-7-7) will take on Ferris State in the first semifinal game one week from Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
During a conference call Tuesday, Daniels said the talk with Leaman, who just completed his first season as head coach at Providence College, was very helpful.
“He gave me some ideas,” Daniels said. “One of the ideas was, during the off week, it’s hard to practice because you don’t know who your opponent is, and you don’t know where you’re going to go. It’s hard to get overly excited yourself because of the tough loss.
“His idea was to pick a topic each day that you want to see your team improve in. One day, we worked on the defensive zone. The next day was forechecking, and then special teams. . . . I was appreciative of that phone call.”
It proved to help the Bulldogs.
“With the loss to Bowling Green, it was something that was, obviously, upsetting, being so close to getting to Joe Louis Arena,” said junior left winger Kyle Bonis, who is the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer with 18 goals and 11 assists. “At the same time, we didn’t want to let one weekend define our season. We realized that we accomplished so much, and we had a great chance to get to a place we are now.
“It was a difficult week for us, but we realized that there was a lot left to do. We handled it correctly. We got ourselves ready for the regional tournament, and we were successful.”
One topic Leaman didn’t discuss with Daniels is what kind of team Union is. Daniels hasn’t had the opportunity to look at Union’s roster and its games.
“From what I know right now, the key is that we’re going to have to stay within our own game plan,” Daniels said. “We’ve never been a team all year that’s really made a super amount of adjustments. It’s more important that we do what we do well.”
Senior center Jordie Johnston is Ferris State’s top scorer with 20 goals and 16 assists. The Bulldogs are impressive on the penalty kill, clicking at 85.8 percent (157-for-183).
Daniels does see some similarities between his team and the Dutchmen, starting in goal. Union sophomore Troy Grosenick is 22-5-3 with a 1.64 goals-against average, a .936 save percentage and five shutouts.
Ferris State senior Taylor Nelson is 20-6-3 with a 2.10 GAA, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts.
“They have a great goaltender. We have a great goaltender,” Daniels said. “They have tremendous defensemen. They don’t have a lot of turnovers. We’re the same.”
BENNETT A FINALIST
Daniels and Union coach Rick Bennett were named finalists for the American Hockey Coaches Association’s Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year on Tuesday.
Daniels and Bennett both led their teams to their first Frozen Four appearances. Daniels was the CCHA Coach of the Year. Bennett won the Tim Taylor Award as ECACH Coach of the Year.
The other finalists are UMass Lowell’s Norm Bazin, Minnesota’s Don Lucia, Michigan Tech’s Mel Pearson, Bentley’s Ryan Soderquist and Boston College’s Jerry York.
The winner will be announced April 6.
Union is 4-0 all-time against Ferris State. The two teams met for the first time in the 2006-07 season at Ferris State. The Dutchmen won,
2-0, on Oct. 6, 2006, and followed that up the next night with a 6-5 victory. The teams met the following season at Messa Rink, and the Dutchmen swept those games, too. Union won, 2-0, on Oct. 12, 2007, and 4-1 the following day. . . .
Grosenick was named by College Hockey News to its All-CHN second team.