Bulldogs led by the goaltending

By Derek Berry

There are very few teams in college hockey that can boast about having
this little problem: two of the top 10 goaltenders in their league and
not sure who to start on any given night. Yes, opponents will feel very
sorry for them. Yeah, sure.

Playing at Ferris State University’s Wink Arena, this season (or against
them at any time) won’t be an easy task with the likes of goalies Vince
Owen (13-8-2, 2.18) and Phil Osaer (8-8-0, 2.95)-call them the “O’s”
(and no Cal Ripken doesn’t play on defense in front of them). But, the
defensive corps for the Bulldogs is strong too, with six defensemen
returning. In other words, don’t expect to put the biscuit in the
basket too many times against the ‘dogs, unless they don’t show up to
the rink one night.

Ferris head coach Bob Daniels, a former goalie himself, maybe sounds a
bit worried, but he’s got to be smiling and salivating on the inside.
If your team has no scoring punch, the Bulldogs will surely leave you
crying.

Coach Daniels feels good about this year’s goaltending and defensive
unit and knows they can go a long way.

“I am truly most confident with our goaltending situation, no question,”
said Daniels, in his 7th year with Ferris State. “We could start either
goalie on any given night and the kids feel confident. Any team with
quality goalies, especially two, will help you finish at or near the top
of the league. If you don’t have it, you’ll finish no better than
sixth.”

But, with two good goalies, what about a controversy? Won’t that
situation unsettle both goalies, kind of like an old Detroit Lions QB
controversy?

Not according to senior defenseman and team captain Jim Dube.
“We’re deep at the goalie position with Vince and Phil,” says Dube.
“Both of those guys have proven themselves.”

Daniels says down the road he might ride either Owen or Osaer if one
gets hotter than the other, but certainly not in the first part of the
season.

“Both of our goalies have so much experience and ability to win games,”
says Daniels. “And with our defensive experience, our whole team feels
very comfortable.”

With that though, comes part of the downside for Ferris, the so-called
weakness-a whole lot of freshman and sophomores playing on offense in
the key forward positions.

Every team has some of these dilemmas, but Daniels prefers the positive
route.

“The youngsters are very positive,” says Daniels. “They will play with
a lot of enthusiasm. And we generate a lot of offense from the blue
line too.”

Dube says he and the other seniors get with the younger players,
particularly the freshman, in practice and identify problems quickly.
“We stop and show the young guys right away if they are not doing
something correctly,” says Dube. “Coach will even stop a rookie in
practice if he notices a problem.”

With all of those freshman and sophomores Daniels says the penalty kill
has become somewhat of an area of concern.

“We knew anyway that it was an area we would have to work on coming into
the season,” says Daniels. “Our young forwards will have to step up in
during those situations.”

The power play (38 goals, 4th in CCHA) is another story.

Daniels sees some great potential with this unit, especially with guys
like Kevin Swider (15-21-36) out there. Much of the transition from an
average to a really good power play came last year for Ferris in a
not-so-unusual manner-practice.

“We used to only work on it maybe one day a week,” says Daniels. “Then
we started putting more emphasis on it and devoted greater amounts of
time to it. We also practiced it in more competitive situations and
that helped us.”

The result? You could say practice makes perfect.

“The forwards we have returning are very skilled offensively and that
will help us,” says Daniels.

Swider, one of the most outstanding power play specialists in the CCHA,
knows it’s a strength of the Bulldogs.

“It’s definitely one of the areas we excel at,” says Swider.

Swider is not even afraid to put scorers like Brian McCullough
(24-24-48) from last year’s team behind him and confidently replace them
with young upstarts like Chris Kunitz (20-9-29).

“I think guys like Kunitz (tied for 5th in goals scored in the CCHA) can
do the job as long as we keep working together,” he says.

Working together. Playing hard. All good signs from a team that views
itself as contender.

But, their schedule (like everybody’s) can pose problems early with
home-and-home series with Michigan and Michigan State in the first few
months. The upside to the schedule is that Ferris gets a lot of home
games down the stretch.

Daniels knows his team could face a tough start too and he doesn’t want
them to get down. But, he also doesn’t want them to let up either, a
chronic pain in recent years for Ferris.

“We have played some great games against the big teams like U-M and MSU
at times, but at other times we’ve let up. We need to find a balance.”
If it all comes together for Ferris and the young players click and the
penalty kill works and the “O’s” stay strong-well, you could be talking
about the maroon and gold hoisting that banner to the top of the Joe in
March. In the playoffs, anything can happen…and Ferris is that kind of
team.

SIDEBAR
Key questions about Ferris in 2000-01:
*Will strong goaltending tandem, defense pull them to a league/CCHA
playoff title?
*Can the power play continue to do the job?
*Are forwards too young, inexperienced to make a run to the playoffs?