FSU anticipating tough stretch

Bulldogs confident heading into series with WMU

BIG RAPIDS – While Ferris State hockey coach Bob Daniels still can’t pinpoint exactly how good his team can be yet, he and the Bulldogs head into a stretch of tough games feeling comfortable about where they are right now.

Coming off arguably its most anticipated home series of the season against Michigan, the Bulldogs head into a tough stretch of road games to close out 2012, with an upcoming weekend series against Western Michigan, followed by a road contest against Michigan State.

The Bulldogs will then participate in the Florida College Hockey Classic where they’ll face a talented field with teams like Cornell, Minnesota Duluth and Maine as potential match-ups.

CLOSING IN: Ferris State’s Justin DeMartino puts a shot on net during the Bulldogs’ weekend series against Michigan. FSU went 1-0-1 against the Wolverines, collecting four points in the CCHA standings. (Pioneer file photo)

With a 7-4-3 overall record and a 6-3-1 mark in the CCHA – just three points behind first place Miami – Daniels said he is proud of what his team has been able to accomplish in the first phase of the season with an often banged up roster.

“If you would have told me that (starting defenseman Scott) Czarnowczan was going to be out as long as he was, along with Travis White, (Eric) Alexander and (Matthew) Kirzinger, I would have been surprised to have the record we currently have,” he said. “We came into this season with big expectations, but I’ll take the record and be very proud of it — knowing that our grade is somewhat incomplete right now.”

Questions before the season

surrounded whether the Bulldogs would be able to grow up quickly enough on the blue line after losing two of its top defensemen in Chad Billins and Brett Wysopal.

That has put more of a load on the experienced offensive core, which leads the CCHA in scoring so far this season at 3.14 goals per game.

It also has left the Bulldogs leaning on sophomore goaltender CJ Motte, who has been outstanding early in the season with a .933 save percentage while allowing just 2.09 goals per game in 833 minutes in net this season. Motte allowed just three goals on 59 Michigan shots this weekend against a dynamic Wolverine offense that came into the weekend ranked first in the CCHA offensively.

Motte’s play has elevated the Bulldogs’ penalty kill, but he’d like to see the team rely less on the sophomore’s heroics heading into a tough stretch of games.

“We still have nights where I think we rely a little bit too much on our goaltending,” he said. “The great thing is it has allowed us a chance to become a better team without losing and staying in the hunt. We know we’ve got to improve if we want to finish in the upper part of the league.”

Another factor that has allowed the Bulldogs to stay in the CCHA hunt while battling injuries has been the play of FSU’s first line, which once again came through for the Bulldogs in salvaging a tie against the Wolverines on Saturday.

Seniors Kyle Bonis (8 goals, 5 assists) and Travis Ouellette (3 goals, 7 assists) were particularly impressive for the Bulldogs, Daniels said, along with junior Garrett Thompson (4 goals, 5 assists).

“I thought we had a couple forwards that weren’t completely on their games,” he said. “We got a lot of mileage out of Ouellette and Bonis, but there were a few guys that didn’t play quite as well as they did yesterday. I thought (Friday’s) performance was a complete team effort, where (Saturday) was a good performance, but we kind of relied on our upperclassmen to lead the way.”

There’s little debate that the trio on the first line represent some of the better offensive players on the team. Bonis said that is the result of playing together and knowing each other for so long.

“It’s so natural,” Bonis said. “I’ve known Travis (Ouellette) for four years now and I’ve known (Garrett Thompson) for five or six now, so we’re comfortable out there. We live together off the ice, so we’re just comfortable and we hold each other accountable when thing maybe aren’t going well.”

Both Daniels and Bonis said they’ll take what they got against Michigan – and the season to date — but both agree that it will take a more well-rounded effort as the team gets healthier to stay in the CCHA title hunt.

“We know we’ve got a tough stretch of games coming up,” Daniels said. “Western Michigan is going to be a challenge. Then we play Michigan State, who I had a chance to watch on TV (Friday) that I thought looked really good. Our schedule and league is very challenging right now, so we’ll take every point that we can get.”

Ideally, Bonis said he would have liked a sweep against the Wolverines, but the senior captain understands his team’s performance in getting four out of six points is the more important focus right now.

“I wish we would have gotten six,” he said. “To take four out of six against a team like that, though, is crucial. You have to be very good at home — we always say win your home games and split your road games and you’ll have a great season. I think we work really hard to protect home ice and I think we played pretty well, so it was great to take four out of six.”

FSU will travel to Kalamazoo to take on a Western Michigan team (8-3-1) that is ranked No. 7 in the nation in the latest USCHO.com poll. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m. on Friday and

Saturday.

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