FSU not resting on last season’s success

Bulldogs stay grounded heading into final season in CCHA

BIG RAPIDS – Bob Daniels believes if his team is going to be successful following the most decorated season in Ferris State hockey history, it will need to mimic last year’s beginning, not its ending.

The Bulldogs enter the 2012-13 season as the defending CCHA regular season champions for the first time since 2002-03 and are coming off an appearance in the NCAA title game, in addition to making the program’s first Frozen Four.

To expect a return trip to college hockey’s biggest stage would be a mistake, Daniels said Tuesday during the Bulldogs’ media day.

“As we’re going into the season, coming off the success of last season, two thoughts come to my mind as a coach: No. 1: How is our team going to respond to that?” he said. “So you look at what kind of shape they’re in, and second, how they’re approaching practice. (They get) A’s on both of those – we’re in tremendous shape right now and the kids are working extremely hard in practice.

A NEW CHALLEGE: Nate Milam and Ferris State are looking to build off of the success of last season with a number of players returning on offense. (Pioneer file photo)

“That’s not to say we’re going to have a great year, but we’re doing all of the little things that we have to do,” he added. “One of the things we wanted to do as a team was not to try and pick up where we left off at the end of the season. We wanted to pick up where we started off last year, which means doing all of the little things right, which leads to a successful season.”

Daniels is approaching his 21st season as head coach with caution – not using last year’s success as a measuring stick because he knows the make-up of this year’s team will be different.

“For us to go into it thinking we’re going to pick things up where we left off is a big mistake,” he said. “Number one, the team is different – we have a different goaltender and four freshmen defensemen. Every team is different from one year to the next.

“I think by the end of the year, we’ll have a very good team,” he said. “I just don’t want expectations too high on the team to start the year, only because we want our freshmen to grow and get better without the pressure of having to live up to a certain thing.”

The Bulldogs, which begin the season ranked No. 11 in both the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine and USCHO.com polls, return a number of key contributors up front and should have even more scoring options this season, Daniels said.

“What I’ve seen that may be different from a year ago is that we have a lot more experience at the forward positions,” he said. “I’m guessing goal scoring will come easier for us because of the wealth of experience we have up front. We’re a faster team than we were last season.”

The defense – which will be breaking in four freshmen this season – will need to gain experience early on before Daniels gets a better idea of what to expect on the blue line.

“It’s not the fact that they’re young defensemen, it’s that they’re inexperienced right now,” he said. “There’s no way you can gain experience without playing, so I can see a bit of a rocky road – some games we’ll look like a million bucks, other games we won’t look so good. I would hope to have it ironed out by Christmas.

Ferris State senior captain Kyle Bonis said all of the team members look back on the magical run fondly, but are eager to get back on the ice when the Bulldogs start the season on Friday against RPI.

“Eager might be an understatement,” he said. “After taking some time to reflect on how special last year was for all of us, there was kind of a shift in focus to training hard and getting my mind back into leading this team.”

While Daniels wants the team to focus on the task ahead of them, he believes it is important to reflect on the accomplishments of a team that had broken new ground for the FSU program.

It is a balancing act Daniels will face this season: Managing expectations while doing the little things right to find more success.

“I did learn a lot from last year,” he said. “What I learned from 2002-03 was that we didn’t take the time to appreciate what we had done, we were always worried about the future. More than anything, I’ve learned to embrace the successes that we’ve had and to use that as motivation to have success the following year.

“I think I overlooked that in the 2003-04 season, when we had such a good year that I allowed the pressure to mount so much,” he said. “The expectations were through the roof. I’m glad to have expectations, but there’s a lot of little things that go into making you a winning program. Just having expectations isn’t enough.”

The views and opinions of Ferris State hockey have changed as a result of the team’s success last season, senior wing Eric Alexander said, making heading into this season a little different.

“We’ve definitely become more known regionally but also nationally,” he said. “Most people didn’t even know who Ferris State was until last year. It’s something special to see from a smaller school, compared to the Michigans and Minnesotas of the hockey world.”

Ferris State will open the 2012-13 regular-season on the road this weekend as the Bulldogs visit RPI on Friday and Saturday in Troy, N.Y. Action gets underway both nights at 7:05 p.m.

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