Behind the bench

Thoughts on the face of Bulldog hockey for the past 26 seasons

For almost 30 years, Bob Daniels has come to work every day with the goal of improving his hockey team. 

When the casual fan takes a peak at Daniels’ record as the head coach of the Dawgs, the word that may come to mind is average, mediocre even. Daniels carries a 440-460-101 record with him currently after the Bulldogs were swept Friday and Saturday, Jan. 19-20, by Bemidji State but it’s time we dig deeper than the casual fan and look further into what Daniels is to Bulldog hockey. 

Daniels, 58, was a three-time coach of the year in the North American Junior Hockey League with the Hennessey Engineers before making his way to Ferris. Daniels was named the head coach of the Bulldogs after three seasons as an assistant under John Perpich (1989-90) and Bob Mancini (1990- 92). Now in his 26th season, Daniels is the longest-tenured and all-time winningest head coach in program history. 

This season hasn’t been the best and the Bulldogs are on pace to be the 14th team under Daniels’ guidance to finish below .500 but when you look at it logically, what Daniels has been able to accomplish at Ferris far and wide exceeds expectations. 

In his first 21 seasons, Daniels’ Bulldogs were a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), routinely going up against much more talented teams such as Michigan State University, Ohio State University and University of Notre Dame (ND). Daniels kept the Bulldogs in it as Ferris went 350-378-84 under Daniels’ guidance in the CCHA, claiming two regular season CCHA titles and two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament appearances, including a National Championship appearance in 2012. 

The Bulldogs were far from the most talented in the CCHA but under Daniels’ leadership, the Bulldogs were able to put Big Rapids on the map. A small town just less than 60 miles north of Grand Rapids was suddenly home to one of the best teams in college hockey and Daniels was awarded both CCHA and National Coach of the Year awards in 2012. 

Just when the Bulldogs were becoming kings of the CCHA, the Big Ten got involved and the landscape of college hockey was in for a shake-up. The CCHA folded and the Bulldogs became a member of the WCHA heading into the 2013-14 season and have remained there since. 

The Bulldogs went from the top of the college hockey world, dominating the CCHA, to a conference with little prestige; from weekly appearances on Fox Sports Detroit to being televised less than Ferris’ Division II football program in the last few years and from beating powerhouse teams like University of Michigan (U of M) and ND to mediocrity. This is not a Daniels issue, this is a college hockey issue. The Big Ten has ruined college hockey. 

Recruiting is an essential part of college hockey. Imagine the thoughts going through future National Hockey League (NHL) players when they are deciding where to play: 

“Hmm, should I live in a small town where I’ll play against a few big-name schools in front of less than 2,000 people a night and never get a chance to play on TV? Or should I make the few hour trip east and play for U of M in one of the nicest arenas in college hockey while my family and friends watch on TV every week as I put hockey in front of academics?” 

Easy choice. 

Through that, Daniels has still been able to assemble a team capable of once again putting Ferris in the national spotlight. The Bulldogs may not be the flashiest but they are capable of beating teams like U of M on the road in overtime, a team whose roster is almost completely owned by the NHL. 

Daniels has shown his ability to develop the players into some of the game’s best. Look at Chris Kunitz and his success-filled career, and players like Gerald Mayhew, Kyle Bonis and Chad Billins who have stuck out in recent years. 

Though this year has given us a team unable to live up to it’s potential, Daniels is far from the reason Ferris isn’t bringing in a conference title every year. In fact, Daniels is the only reason this program even has a chance. Believe me, they will have plenty of chances to get back to the national championship with Daniels behind the bench. 

Since college hockey started, 42 schools have heard the final buzzer on their program, including three right here in Michigan: Hillsdale College, Wayne State University and U of M Dearborn). We can thank Daniels that Ferris isn’t one of those teams because to stay alive with a program like this, you need stability and Daniels has been the best at providing that since 1992. 

Though this team hasn’t given the fans what they want these past two seasons, fans should be thankful that Daniels has given the program everything he has.

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