All celebrations come to an end, and the same holds true for the newly crowned regular season champions and nationally ranked No. 6 Ferris State hockey team.
“We certainly took the time to enjoy it,” Ferris hockey head coach Bob Daniels said. “We got to enjoy all through Sunday, on Monday’s practice we turned the page. No ones even mentioned the championship now, for the guys it’s all about the first round of the playoffs.”
On March 8, Ferris State hockey clinched the WCHA regular season conference championship by sweeping Lake Superior State at home in near identical 2-1 victories.
“Last weekend had a real playoff feel to it,” Daniels said. “You had one team in Lake Superior State fighting for their playoff lives, so they’re playing as hard as they could absolutely play. I can’t imagine either one of [us] giving more than what we did last weekend.
Now the focus turns to a new conference foe that was one of four WCHA teams to upend the Bulldogs during the regular season.
The eighth place Bemidji State Beavers will travel to Big Rapids for the first round of the 2013-14 WCHA playoffs.
“We have a great deal of respect for [Bemidji],” Daniels said. “We played them four times and every game was close. They’re an excellent hockey club. We knew at Christmastime that whether we finished first, second, or third that whoever we faced in the first round would be a good team.”
Bemidji State University lies on the edge of Lake Bemidji in the central north of Minnesota. 5,365 students are currently enrolled in the University, making it roughly a third of the size of Ferris State’s 14, 560 students.
Four Beaver alumni made it to the NHL, the most successful of which was Joel Otto, who played from 1984-1998, winning one Stanley Cup with the 1989 Calgary Flames. Otto scored 195 goals to his 313 assists. Otto also played for the 1997 Stanley Cup runner-up Philadelphia Flyers, who were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
The Bulldogs have pushed 11 players to the NHL level, the most successful being the new gold medalist for team Canada, Chris Kunitz. Kunitz has two Stanley Cup rings to his name. Kunitz has been active in the NHL since 2003, and has 203 goals and 259 assists as of March 12, 2014.
During the 2013-14 WCHA season, the Beavers defeated the Bulldogs 2-1 on Feb. 15 in Bemidji, Minnesota, which then hampered the Bulldog’s chances to win the conference title outright in their inaugural campaign in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“Bemidji is a very formidable team,” Daniels said.
Daniels cited goaltending, special teams, and discipline as the key factors in playoff hockey.
On the special teams front, Ferris was seventh in the conference on the power play, but second in penalty kill.
The discipline column may be a factor for the aptly nicknamed “Bullydogs” who took 137 penalties in conference play, which was the most in the WCHA. Thankfully for Ferris, the large sample size has yielded positive results.
“The penalty kill has been very good, certainly over the last month,” Daniels said. “We’ve improved dramatically from where we started off the year.”
In the goaltending department, Ferris was second in scoring defense, and have junior goaltender CJ Motte, who is in the top three in save percentage, goals allowed average, and winning percentage.
“The goaltending has been excellent all season,” Daniels said. “I could count maybe two games where it was less than stellar, but we’ve become accustomed to getting outstanding goaltending and that’s probably what we’ll need this weekend, and CJ’s going to have to play the way he’s played all year long.”
Puck drop for game one of the best-of-three first round series is at 7:07 inside the Ewigleben Ice Arena on March 14.