Sunday, April 08, 2012

Ferris State defies expectations, convenient narratives

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Last night's NCAA men's ice hockey final...Boston College vs. Ferris State.

David vs. Goliath.

Man vs. Machine.

Hammer vs. Nail.

Ice cube vs. blow drier.

All wrong. All wrong.

While it was the convenient way for the talking heads to frame Saturday's championship contest, it couldn't have been further from the truth.

Though FSU was a Frozen Four neophyte, it was the champion of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association -- you know, the one with Michigan (most NCAA hockey titles), Michigan State (three crowns, last won in 2007), Notre Dame (2008 final appearance), Miami-Ohio (2009 runner-up) and Western Michigan (2012 conference playoff champs).

They did so with a smothering defense that included a 2.10 goals-against average and three shutouts from senior goaler Taylor Nelson and a total of 94 scores allowed all season. Recognizing that fact, was praise from head coach Jerry York.

"We knew Ferris State was going to be outstanding. They might not have the name recognition, but we knew how good they were. We stayed patient through the first two periods," said York on his opponent's method of good, technical hockey.

The Bulldogs spent some time during the middle portion of the regular season as the #1 team in the country, until they were unseated by their final Tampa foes who were steamrolling the competition. They won a CCHA regular-season title, and despite being toppled by WMU in the quarterfinals, regrouped to win the Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament.

No slouch in his 20th year at the helm of the small school tucked away in central Michigan whose closest neighbor is a state forest, Bob Daniels took home CCHA coach of the year AND national coach of the year honors after guiding his charges to the second-most wins in school history (26) and its first attempt at a Division I title in any sport.

"This team has really blazed a trail," Daniels said on Saturday night. "This team broke some new ground for us and this senior class will leave with three straight winning years and three really great seasons. I think it will give us confidence moving forward that we can be successful on a national stage and with that hopefully we'll continue to grow."

And that's saying something. Daniels presided over the best team in school history back in 2002-03 -- one which went 31-10-1 with a 22-5-1 league mark. That club featured current Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, but their trek to glory was derailed in the West Regional by eventual champion Minnesota.

FSU finished sixth in the PairWise rankings to end this season and earned a second-seed in its region, hardly the stuff of the legendary basketball upsets that NC State pulled off against Houston or Villanova did against Georgetown in the 80s.

It doesn't even pass muster as a work of fiction, since the Hickory Huskers facing South Bend Central for the Indiana state title takes the cake there.

This was a case of two strong teams -- albeit one with a better pedigree -- battling for national supremacy. Ferris State belonged.

Just don't tell that to anyone in charge of what you see and hear.
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