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Ferris State puts past struggles in rear-view mirror

by James Murphy /
After an 18-16-5 season in 2007-08, and with a strong core of sophomores and juniors coming back for 2008-09, expectations were high for the Ferris State Bulldogs entering last season. But whether those expectations were too high or there was some overconfidence, the Bulldogs took a step backwards and went 12-19-7 with a 9-14-5 mark in the CCHA. That led to low expectations this season, as Ferris State was ranked No. 9 in preseason CCHA polls and not even on the map nationally.

But while the pollsters didn't expect much from the Bulldogs, coach Bob Daniels and his players knew they could be much better.

"I did expect us to have a good year, but the expectations were tempered because the year we're having this year, I expected us to have last year," Daniels said. "I thought we had a real nice team a year ago, with a lot of top players returning, but it never came to fruition. So this year, again we had a lot of core players back, but it was hard to set expectations too high because we faltered a year ago."

Those tempered expectations and an improved work ethic have the Bulldogs sitting where they envisioned themselves to be a year ago. Ferris State (16-6-2; 10-4-2-2 CCHA), enter a home-and-home set with Michigan this weekend in third place in the CCHA, trailing first-place Miami by six points and second-place Michigan State by one. The Bulldogs also are getting national recognition; they're ranked No. 8 in the Top Ten poll.

Both Daniels and his players learned some valuable lessons last season, and they realize now that nothing is guaranteed in this game no matter what you do the previous season.

"I felt a disappointment from a year ago and that's because our core players coming off their sophomore year, Blair Riley, Cody Chupp, Aaron Lewicki, Zach Redmond coming off his freshman year, those players were a core we had that seemed to be ready for the next step," Daniels said. "We figured we could take off where we left off, and it just never happened. Maybe we set expectations too high or maybe we just thought it could automatically carry over, but for whatever reason we just never took off and it left a bitter taste in our mouths."

But the Bulldogs got off to that strong start this season, and while they have had some bumps along the way, they've maintained a solid work ethic and commitment while not looking ahead at all.

"I do think that the lessons learned from last season have taught us and got us to where we are right now," Daniels said. "You can make assumptions on where you think your team will be, but you need to back it up with hard work. We know we didn't put in the work we needed to build off the 07-08 season and we focused a lot more this past summer on things like conditioning and a more committed work ethic from the get-go. We had the start we needed and right now things are going well."

The seniors and juniors who underachieved last season are realizing their potential once again and leading the way for the Bulldogs. Riley (16 goals, 27 points), Chupp (15 assists, 22 points), Lewicki (14 points) and Redmond (16 assists, 20 points) are all producing and providing the leadership Daniels felt they were capable of.

"We're getting those seasons now that we thought we may have had last season from Riley, Chupp and down the list," Daniels said. "We've got great leadership from them and all our seniors and we are where we need to be."

A great example that his team has learned to live in the now, not getting too high or too low was the way they bounced back from an ugly 4-0 loss to Miami Friday night with a spirited effort in a 5-4 loss on Saturday. While they obviously weren't happy with losing both games to a conference rival they're battling for first place, the Bulldogs were satisfied that they could move on from Friday night and have subsequently moved on from Saturday this week.

"I think the hardest moment over the past few days was really Saturday morning because we did not play well Friday night, so I think that was tough," Daniels said. "Maybe the expectations were too high and we got carried away or what it was but it just wasn't a good game for us. But I do think we showed a lot of heart coming back strong Saturday and I think that game could've gone either way.

"We were disappointed for sure, but we know we're a good team and we played with them Saturday so we know we can bounce back. There's no time to feel sorry for yourself or get too high because you have another big game on the horizon and that's the way it is for the rest of the season."

This Bulldogs squad has the chance to be the first Ferris State team since 2003 and only the second in the program's history to make the NCAAs. While they obviously would love to achieve that feat, they're more focused on their next two games.

"They keep that in their minds and they know the importance of it, so it's a goal they're shooting for and I think they know it's attainable," Daniels said. "We just need to keep going game by game and focus on the task at hand."

On Campus clips -- Sophomore defenseman Blake Kessel and junior forward Paul Thompson helped New Hampshire beat interstate rival Dartmouth College 5-2 in the Battle for the RiverStone Cup IX at the Verizon Wireless Arena last Saturday. Kessel (brother of Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel and an Islanders prospect) finished with a career-high 4 assists, while Thompson tallied 2 goals and an assist to lead the Wildcats who are now 10-7-4. Dartmouth fell to 4-12-0. ... Boston College sophomore forward Cam Atkinson had a monster week for the Eagles with a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over Providence and 2 goals and 1 assist in a 6-1 win over Maine. Atkinson's 3-goal week extended his team lead in goals to 13. The Avon Old Farms product was voted the team's best freshman last season after finishing fourth in scoring with 7 goals and 19 points. He has already surpassed those totals with 22 points this season and ranks second on the team in scoring. Atkinson was a sixth-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2008 Entry Draft. ... The latest PairWise rankings were released, and Miami and Denver are tied for first. Ferris State (featured above), was fourth. The PairWise Ranking is a system that attempts to mimic the method used by the NCAA Selection Committee to determine participants for the NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament. The PWR compares the top 25 teams in the RPI judging them by four criteria: record against common opponents, head-to-head competition, record against other top 25 teams if the team has faced at least 10 Top 25 opponents, and the RPI. For each comparison won, a team receives one point. The final PWR ranking is based on the number of points (comparisons) won against top 25 teams. Ties are settled by the RPI. ... Four current college players are ranked in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings for the 2010 Entry Draft. Notre Dame center Riley Sheahan heads the list at fifth among North American skaters. Minnesota State center Tyler Pitlick (21st), Harvard defenseman Danny Biega (31st) and Wisconsin defenseman John Ramage (187th) also appeared in the rankings.

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