By Derek Berry
Tampa, Fla – A look at some of the odds and ends of the NCAA Frozen Four college hockey championship, direct from the Sunshine State:
AND IT’S DOWN TO ONE GAME
Looking ahead to Saturday night’s championship here in warm and sunny Florida, the brackets couldn’t be more perfect. You have the David vs. Goliath matchup with the Ferris State Bulldogs from Big Rapids, Mich., and the heavyweight Boston College Eagles, who knocked out the difficult Minnesota Gophers.
Ferris State players say they believed in each other when many doubted them.
“I think kind of the way the season started, everyone told us we weren’t good enough,” said Kyle Bonis, who had two goals in the Bulldogs 3-1 semifinal win over Union College. “I think that what we have in that locker room, I don’t think there’s any 26 guys I’d rather go into a national championship with.”
Boston College head coach Jerry York, who has been at the helm for the Eagles since 1994 wondered about his team at the beginning of the season, but couldn’t be more confident now.
“Starting the year I wasn’t quite sure where we were going to take this group of guys and they really have matured and become a real – they’ve become a real good team,” he said. “And I think that’s a great tribute to the leadership and the captains of our team.”
KEYS TO SATURDAY NIGHT’S FINAL
You have Ferris State’s tight, swarming defense and their growing confidence going up against Boston College, which has far more NHL draft picks and loads of talent, along with their ability to get up and down the ice quickly.
But the Eagles have a strong defense, too, having given up only one goal the entire NCAA tournament and riding an 18-game winning streak.
An offensive struggle type of game would favor the Bulldogs and an all-out offensive fest would favor the Eagles. Either way, it should be interesting.
BONIS TURNS SOME HEADS
With two goals in the semifinal, Ferris State junior forward Kyle Bonis is sure to turn the heads of NHL scouts, particularly because he is an undrafted free agent. Bonis had a knack for scoring going back to his junior days with the Traverse City North Stars of the NAHL.
“It’s funny, no one recruited Kyle Bonis,” said Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels. “He’s always been a scorer. He scores. He’s had a history of scoring goals since he was 14, 15 years old.”
UNION’S WELSH HAS THE NHL TOOLS
NHL scouts also took notice of big-bodied Union College forward Jeremy Welsh, who had a fine NCAA tournament. At 6-foot-3 this undrafted free agent has a presence down the middle, possesses good hands and feet, wins a lot of faceoffs and isn’t afraid to mix it up. Ferris State held Welsh mostly in check in the semifinal, but other schools had problems with him.
So it was no surprise when Welsh signed a pro deal with the Carolina Hurricanes mere hours after the Dutchmen fell to Ferris State.
LOOK IN THE MIRROR
One of the fascinating elements of this Frozen Four is that each team in the semifinal resembled each other to some extent. Minnesota and Boston College each have a selection of skill players and both like to get up and down the ice.
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia downplayed any rivalry with Boston College, despite the fact both teams are very similar in style. He said it’s really more of a respect between two storied programs.
“Certainly look at what they’ve done in their history, very similar to Minnesota over the years,” said Lucia of Boston College. “Very elite players.”
Boston College head coach Jerry York agreed adding: “I think of all the teams in the country, when we look at them, we kind of look in the mirror. They like to play the game with high skill level. They play very tenacious defensive play. They wear the same uniform colors. But the tradition of both programs, there’s a lot of things that are similar with BC and Minnesota.”
Ferris State and Union College are very disciplined and rely on their goaltending and defense to a large extent (though Union’s power play ranked fourth in the nation).
Ferris State coach Bob Daniels and Union College coach Rick Bennett both had complimentary things to say to one another as well, prior to their semifinal matchup.
“I think we’re both very structured in our approach to the games,” said Daniels. “I think both teams play a really strong unit-of-five team game on the ice.”
Bennett, a one-time player for Providence College and the New York Rangers, said both teams have a workman-like approach to the game.
“That’s how we both (got here)” he said. “It’s two teams that pride themselves on working hard.”
FERRIS AND UNION A JV MATCHUP?
Players from both Ferris State and Union College bristled when asked about Twitter and blogosphere pundits calling their semifinal game a ‘JV matchup.’
Ferris State goaltender Taylor Nelson especially took exception to the analogy prior to the semifinal.
“I think that’s silly,” said Nelson. “First off, we’re in the Frozen Four last time I checked. And it’s a pretty big accomplishment for both teams. And you look at Union…that’s not a team to joke about. We’re here playing for the championship. The junior varsity thing, I just find that kind of funny.”
Welsh also found the Internet buzz about the game odd.
“I wouldn’t bat at an eye at it. Don’t read that stuff,” said Welsh. “Doesn’t really matter what other people think. We’re here at the national championship. We’re all in the same boat.”
OH LOOK IT’S YOU!
Players from Union and Minnesota in particular were giving their stars a lot of grief for the larger than life murals pasted on the front of the Tampa Times Forum.
Welsh said it was neat to see as the team bus came in.
“It’s not every day I see myself on the side of a building,” he said.
But Welsh’s Union teammate, forward Nolan Julseth-White, gave him the business for it.
“This morning I woke up, saw this beautiful sunrise, and then, wham, there’s Jeremy Welsh,” he said jokingly. “Living with him all summer and dealing with him all year, you think you could get away from him for just five minutes.”
The Minnesota Gophers players had some fun with the murals, too. Gophers forward Nate Schmidt said of teammate Taylor Matson’s pose: “It was kind of fun when we pulled up. Everyone obviously gave Taylor a little bit of grief. But he’s a well-deserving kid to be up there.”
BY THE NUMBERS
1 – number of times Ferris State and Union College have appeared in the NCAA Frozen Four each.
42 – number of times Minnesota and Boston College have appeared in the NCAA Frozen Four combined.
0 – number of NHL draft picks on Ferris State and Union College.
24 – number of NHL draft picks on the Minnesota and Boston College rosters combined.
0 – number of scholarship players on the Union College Dutchmen.
9 – years since a team from the ECAC appeared in the Frozen Four until Union did it this year. The last was Cornell in 2003.
10 – Appearance number for Boston College in the NCAA championship.
0 – number of previous appearances by Ferris State in the NCAA championship.
18 – current Boston College winning streak.
1 – goal allowed by Boston College so far in the NCAA hockey tournament.