The 2014-15 Ferris State hockey program looks to recreate the team’s recent success once again as the Bulldogs season kicks off on Oct. 4.
After advancing to the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament last year, along with players of the 2011 freshmen class making it all the way to the National Championship Game, the Bulldogs have not feared the spotlight.
“We’ve got guys that are seniors that played in the national championship four years ago, and the younger guys went through the tournament last year, so a lot of us have had experience in big games,” Kenny Babinski junior forward said. “We’re a team that doesn’t really allow the rankings to be a big thing in our minds, but I think that if we go out and just play our game we can live up to our expectations.”
With experiences in the NCAA Tournament still fresh in the player’s minds, they have set their aspirations on a return trip to the Frozen four.
“We always think that we can achieve big things. There’s always that confidence that we’ve got the right players and the right group of leaders leading us, so I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be able to run the table this year and for many years to come,” Chad McDonald sophomore forward said. “Obviously the national championship is always the ultimate goal, and I think that with our recent success over the past couple of years, we’re definitely up there with the teams fighting for it. We know that we can do big things and we’ve spent time on a big stage before, so we know how to handle that.”
Upon hearing news of Michigan’s Head Coach Red Berenson citing Ferris State as one of the top ten teams in the nation, the team was appreciative, but not shocked.
“I do think we are at that level. We have unbelievable talent on our team, and for the last four or five years it’s just been getting better. We’ve been drawing more and more really talented players to our program over the years, so I do think we are a contender for the top ten in the nation,” Gerald Mayhew sophomore forward said.
The faceoff against the University of Michigan Wolverines will mark the beginning of the season for the Bulldogs as the team keeps the recent rivalry alive. While the players are highly optimistic, Head Coach Bob Daniels enters his 23 year at the helm knowing that the team can benefit from a bit of hopeful skepticism.
“I think this team has the potential to pursue a conference championship, whether it comes in the regular season or in the playoffs, I think we have that opportunity. We’ve got the pieces in place and we’ve got the leadership to be in the conversation of teams with a shot at the conference championship,” Daniels said. “I think we also have a really good chance at qualifying for the NCAA national tournament. So that’s what the expectations are. I don’t know that we’re a ready-made team coming out of the gate, because all five players that we lost played key roles or us last year. Now I think we’ve got the right players to fill those roles, but it might take some time to get that chemistry.”
Expectations for this team are unanimously lofty throughout the locker room, and the excitement among student spectators is equally high. Both the Dawg Pound and the hockey team will be fired up come this Saturday when this season officially begins.
Ferris will drop the puck against Michigan for the first time of the season on Saturday, Oct. 4th at 7:37 p.m.
Despite the loss of their captain and leader of the defense, the Ferris State hockey program still has a core group of defenseman returning, and are looking to improve upon their 29-11-3 record from a year ago.
Scott Czarnowczan, 2013-14 senior captain, graduated after last season for the Bulldogs and has moved on to a career with the Idaho Steelheads. This leaves the Bulldog defense without the captain who scored 25 points for the Dawgs during last season’s campaign.
The defense, though, is returning a strong core from a year ago. They will also be joined by a key defenseman who missed all of last season with an injury in junior Simon Denis.
Denis missed all of last season with a broken neck. Denis explains that the road back to playing for the Dawgs was difficult, but is more than excited to get back on the ice.
“It was extremely tough, definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Denis said. “ With all the support I’ve received, it has kept me in high spirits. It feels great after having a full season off, it had me that much more prepared and excited to get back to work. It’s awesome to be back on the ice with my teammates and I’m beyond excited to get this season going.”
Although Ferris lost a key component during a successful season last year, Denis is confident that the team will strive during the 2014-15 campaign.
“It’s tough losing Czarnowczan, but we’re confident with the group we have,” Denis said. “We have a lot of strong returners and we have two good freshman, both Austin Kosack and Tyler Dorantes have shown a lot of things already and will definitely help with our defensive core this season.”
Junior goaltender, Charles Williams, is currently recovering from a torn Achilles which he suffered in May and is progressing and healing, all while doing physical therapy. Williams is confident in the Bulldogs for the upcoming season in both the back end of the defense and between the crease.
“We just have to take things one game at a time, we’ve been working hard in the off-season and during practices and I think it’s going to be a strong year from the back end,” Williams said. “A strong defense always helps out a goaltender and our defense should be strong again this year. We try to make it hard on each other during practice and everyone wants to learn from each other. It makes everything a lot of fun and a good learning experience for everyone.”
Head coach Bob Daniels said that the primary strength for the 2014-15 Bulldogs is the play of senior goalie CJ Motte, but said not to count the defense out as another key contributor to the success of the Bulldogs this season.
“We only lost one defenseman from a year ago, so we have a strong defensive core,” Daniels said. “I mean, it was a good defenseman that we lost, but we have a lot of players with a lot of experience on defense and in goal. So if our younger forwards can learn how to play defensively, we should be a really stingy team.”
Denis also had similar thoughts on playing in front of a 2013-14 Hobey Baker award finalist, which names the best collegiate hockey player from that year, in Motte.
“He gives us confidence knowing that he’s back there and can bail us out if we need it,” Denis said. “It allows us to take more chances up ice with less worry because we know if we need that save, he can make it.”
Motte is looking to improve upon a 2014-15 season in which he logged a 29-9-3 record with a .938 save percentage.
The defensemen and goaltenders will unite to help Ferris State boast a stiff back end in 2014-15 as the team looks forward to success this season.
52 of the 138 goals Ferris State scored last season were scored by seniors.
This large chunk will be surely missed, but Ferris is looking to a younger group of forwards to power the team back into the National Tournament
Last year, the Bulldogs were able to average 3.21 goals and just under 30 shots per game. This year, Head Coach Bob Daniels believes that this success can be repeated once the pieces fall into place.
“Ideally when we hit our stride this year, I think we’re going to be a really high-octane team that plays at a high speed, we’re going to be super aggressive but stay disciplined and we’re going to have highly-skilled puck movement,” Daniels said. “That kind of stuff will lead to more lasting success than being overly-physical to the point where we lack discipline. It’s a fine between playing aggressive and losing track of the fact that we’re trying to score more goals than the other team.”
While the class of 2013 will be missed, some key players are set to return and will try to make a name for themselves on a national level.
“Some players that could have breakout seasons this year are Kenny Babinski, Kyle Schempp and Justin Buzzeo. Now Justin has always been a scorer for us, but this year since he’s a senior we’re really looking for him to be a top-end scorer for us,” Daniels said.
The coming season could be one to remember for Ferris hockey, and with the incoming group of freshmen, the Bulldog future is looking bright.
“I’m pretty excited about the whole group. Last year’s freshmen class was able to step in pretty quickly and make a difference. Guys like Gerald Mayhew and Kyle Schempp really stepped in and played well for us, along with Ryan Lowney on defense. This group that we’ve brought in this year is bigger physically.” Daniels said. “We lost a lot of size with last year’s seniors, so our goal was to bring in more size. A goal for this group is to replace some of that size and help us in terms of our physical play. They probably won’t show up a lot early on in the year, but I think that by the time their careers are over, they’ll be very good, so I’m excited about the class in totality.”
As the Bulldogs made a run into the NCAA Tournament last year, Gerald Mayhew provided the spark that the team needed to win some of those games. Mayhew scored on a few late goals in the postseason that helped to lift Ferris to the win. The Bulldogs hope that he can learn from his success in the rearview mirror, and build upon it in the years to come.
“I think it’s something that he can repeat in the regular season. Now he was the beneficiary of playing down the stretch with two of our better forwards, but he was put on that line for a reason” Coach Bob Daniels said. “He’s really got a lot of talent and I think he could have a really good regular season. I think he’s an emerging star in college hockey and he’s got the potential to really be a dynamite player. He’s certainly got the talent to do it, but he has to stay hungry and not become satisfied too early in his career.”
With so many key players on the offensive side, one has to wonder who the team would turn to late in the third period when the game is on the line. Questions still remain about who will be behind the scoring shot that sends the game into overtime, or elevates the team to victory. Fortunately, junior forward Kenny Babinski has an answer.
“The beauty of our team is that we can go to anybody or any line when we badly need a goal,” Babinski said. “I think everybody on our team has the capability to score that last goal to tie up the game, or to make a clutch pass late in the game to set someone else up.”