April 7, 2012

BC, Ferris State in David and Goliath bout for championship

By Adam Kaufman

TAMPA, Fla. — If the Tampa Bay Times Forum had a movie-like marquee, it would read “Ferris State and Boston College clash in David vs. Goliath title showdown.” 

Winger Andy Huff and the Bulldogs are about to play in Ferris State's first-ever national championship game. (Getty)

The national championship game here Saturday night matches one of college hockey’s most powerful and storied programs against a true underdog making its title-game debut.

It’s true, the Eagles have soared since leaving The Heights. In three NCAA tournament games, the heavily favored Boston College squad (32-10-1) has outscored its opponents a jaw-dropping 12-1 after first outlasting Air Force (2-0), and then dissecting two of the country’s most potent offenses in Minnesota-Duluth (4-0) and Minnesota (6-1).

Now, just one opponent stands in the Eagles’ way of a 19th consecutive win and, more importantly, a fifth national championship — and third in five years — and that’s the largely unknown Bulldogs from Big Rapids, Mich., who are playing in their first-ever Frozen Four compared with BC’s 23rd.

While their students wear T-shirts that read “Save Ferris” as a takeoff on the popular Matthew Broderick role, the Bulldogs hardly need saving because they have not reached college hockey’s highest stage by accident.

Ferris State (26-11-5) enjoyed a two-week run early in the season as the nation’s No. 1 team and entered the regionals ranked ninth. Still, there were a number of haters to unseat, and the Bulldogs did just that by rebounding from a loss to Bowling Green in the CCHA quarterfinals to upset Denver (2-1) in the opening round of regional play in Wisconsin, followed by a triumph over Cornell (2-1) and yet another shock of Union (3-1) on Thursday in the national semifinals.

How they match up

There’s a reason an eagle flies in the air, wings spread, gliding as it circles its prey, occasionally frightening small dogs out playing aimlessly and unassumingly in the yard.

They can, thus giving them an advantage on the food chain.

There are lots of things the Eagles can do on the ice that the Bulldogs cannot.

BC can score at will (3.6 goals per game vs. 2.9). The Eagles can roll four lines over the boards seamlessly (BC’s top three scorers all play on different lines) and can attack from any number of directions (the Eagles used 11 different point-producers to beat the Gophers). Moreover, the Bulldogs are led by Jordie Johnston’s 36 points (BC boasts five men with at least that many). 

Their power play will abuse (22.2 percent) and their penalty kill will smother (88.3 percent). Know what’s more impressive than those season-long averages? The fact that they pale in comparison to what’s gone on during the team’s 18-game winning streak entering Saturday night (30.2 percent and 91.3 percent, respectively).

When it comes to NHL pedigree, forget it. BC has nine draft picks throughout its roster, while Ferris State doesn’t have one.

One area the clubs are similar, however, is that they are both stingy in net.

Junior Parker Milner of the Eagles has won 19 consecutive games dating back to late December, and he’s compiled numbers that make coaches harken back to the days of John Muse, Corey Schneider and Scott Clemmensen. Milner, the Hockey East’s goaltending champ, is 28-5-0 with three shutouts, a miniscule 1.68 goals-against-average and a robust .936 save percentage.

On the other side, Ferris State leans heavily on senior Taylor Nelson, who is 21-6-3 with three shutout, plus a 2.06 GAA and .924 save percentage. When Nelson has been on the bench, freshman C.J. Motte (5-5-2, 2 SO, 1.98 GAA, .925 save pct.) has given those back in Michigan reason to be excited about the future.

The chief concern, though, is the here and now, where the Bulldogs are playing in just their second NCAA tournament and first since a 31-win campaign in 2003. The Eagles have played 82 NCAA playoff games (44-38) — they live for this each and every year.

Coaches

Boston College is led by Jerry York, a 40th-year bench boss who is just a dozen wins shy of passing Ron Mason’s 924-win total for the most in college hockey history. He’s 36-19-1 all-time in national tournament play (31-9 at BC), and he’s going for his fifth title after wins with the Eagles in 2001, 2008 and 2010, plus Bowling Green in 1984.

Bob Daniels is in his 20th season at Ferris State, the only place he’s ever known. Daniels is 334-361-79 in his career, which included AHCA Division 1 Coach of the Year honors in 2002-03 for guiding his team to a school-record 31 wins. He’s coaching in just his second national tournament.

How they got here 

Junior forward Chris Kreider hopes to lead Boston College to its third title in the last five years. (Dave Arnold Photography)

The Eagles’ path to the title game has been well documented. After an 8-1-0 start, Boston College endured a rocky midseason 6-9-1 slump, culminating with a season-altering two-game sweep in Maine. Since then, the club’s put that deep in the memory bank and reeled off 18 consecutive wins with no single victory more important than the potential 19th that awaits Saturday night.

As for Ferris State, it also was strong out of the gate at 9-2-1 before a brief 2-6-0 slide. Once the calendar switched to 2012, however, the Bulldogs got hot again, going unbeaten at 11-0-4 into late February and an overall 15-3-4 since. Only one of those losses, by the way, came in regulation.

Players to watch

We’ve talked about the goalies and alluded to the Eagles’ depth. To say they rely on one man or one line for offense would be flat-out insulting as nine players have produced at least 25 points. Just four Bulldogs have achieved such a feat.

BC is led by junior Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.), who scored one goal and assisted on another in Thursday’s victory over Minnesota to raise his team-high points-total to 45, including 23 goals. Freshman Johnny Gaudreau, with two assists to his credit against the Gophers, checks in with 20 goals and 43 points, followed by undrafted senior and second-team All-American Barry Almeida (Springfield, Mass.) and his 22 goals and 39 points.

Ferris State is paced by senior Jordie Johnston’s 20 goals and 36 points, marginally better than two other 30-plus point performers, juniors Matthew Kirzinger (10 goals, 34 points) and Kyle Bonis (19 goals and 31 points). Bonis achieved two points against Union, while two goals came from senior Aaron Schmidt, just his first multiple-point effort of the year.

Head-to-head

Boston College and Ferris State don’t have quite the storied history that the Eagles possess with recent playoff opponents. In fact, the two clubs have met only twice all-time with BC holding a 1-0-1 record, both regular-season meetings in 1984-85 and 2005-06.

There’s a pretty big prize waiting once the puck drops on meeting No. 3 in the national title game.

Adam Kaufman can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com