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Ferris State headed to its first Frozen Four

By Noah Trister
AP Sports Writer / March 28, 2012
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When it was finally over -- and Ferris State had held on to beat Cornell and earn a spot in the Frozen Four for the first time -- senior Jordie Johnston barely had enough energy to celebrate.

"I was thrilled, but I was so tired I couldn't even get over the boards at first," Johnston said. "Everyone put so much effort into that game, it was absolute jubilation in the room. It was fantastic."

It's been a long road for the Bulldogs, who have been coached for the last 20 years by Bob Daniels. Ferris State made its first trip to the NCAA tournament in 2003, when it lost in the regional finals. The team is heading at least one more step this year.

Ferris State (25-11-5) will face Union College of New York -- another first-time Frozen Four participant -- in a national semifinal April 5. The other semifinalists are traditional powerhouses Boston College and Minnesota.

With so much time before the next game, the Bulldogs were still letting their success sink in during a news conference Tuesday.

"I want them to enjoy every moment of this," Daniels said. "I fully believe that they will flip the switch when it's time to take care of business. They have all year."

Located in Big Rapids, Mich., about 55 miles north of Grand Rapids, Ferris State has an enrollment of about 14,000 on its main campus and its many off-campus sites around the state. Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins played on the 2003 team that won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title.

This season, the Bulldogs repeated that feat. After a disappointing trip to Vermont in late December for the Catamount Cup, Ferris State went unbeaten in its next 15 games and was ranked No. 1 in the nation in several polls.

Goalie Taylor Nelson says players were motivated by the usual low expectations from the outside. Ferris State was picked ninth in the CCHA in a preseason coaches' poll.

"Each and every year, they talk about how Ferris State is going to be low in the polls, low in the standings, low in our league, and low in the nation," he said. "I guess you kind of get tired of it."

Although their long unbeaten streak put them in great shape for the postseason, the Bulldogs lost to Bowling Green in a three-game conference quarterfinal. Both of the losses were in overtime.

They rebounded after heading to a four-team NCAA regional in Green Bay, Wis. Ferris State beat Denver and Cornell by identical 2-1 scores to reach the Frozen Four.

"I really felt that all four teams had an opportunity to advance," Daniels said. "I can make an equally strong case that we belong, moving on."

Johnston leads the team in goals (20) and points (36), and Nelson has a 2.10 goals-against average.

With its decent-sized enrollment, Ferris State can't necessarily be called a small school -- but it's certainly not a big name in college athletics. Its teams generally compete in Division II, with this hockey team an exception.

In fact, the Bulldogs are pretty similar to Union, the next team in their way.

"We're going to make some new fans -- we already have -- that don't have an affiliation to Ferris State," athletic director Perk Weisenburger said. "We're a blue-collar team, we had that long winning streak, we were ranked No. 1. We probably are one of the little guys -- it's a David and Goliath thing possibly."

That may be even more true if Ferris State reaches the title game. Boston College has won two of the last four national championships, and Minnesota won two in a row in 2002-03.

"You can't guarantee victory. None of the four teams can," Daniels said. "But I can guarantee this right here: We'll come out and we'll play as hard as we can play and we'll give it everything we got, and those kids will have prepared themselves the best they can."

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