Bulldog seniors lead the way

Mix of veterans and young talent leads FSU hockey to success

BIG RAPIDS — As sophomores, the seniors on this year’s Ferris State hockey team got to experience the program’s first trip to the NCAA National Championship in a 4-1 loss to Boston College.

STEPPING UP: Ferris State senior forward Garrett Thompson is one of many Bulldog veterans who have paired with the team’s younger playmakers to lead FSU to the top of the WCHA standings. (Pioneer file photo)

STEPPING UP: Ferris State senior forward Garrett Thompson is one of many Bulldog veterans who have paired with the team’s younger playmakers to lead FSU to the top of the WCHA standings. (Pioneer file photo)

Fast forward from that 2011-12 season to now and those veteran players have teamed up with a solid core of young playmakers to guide the nationally sixth-ranked Bulldogs to the top of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) standings in their first year in the conference with a 17-5-3 overall record and a 12-2-2 mark in the WCHA so far this season.

While the Bulldogs are coming off a weekend road sweep at the hands of WCHA foe Minnesota State, Ferris State has already ripped off a school-record 16-game unbeaten streak before a loss to Colgate on Jan. 4 in the Mariucci Classic and had not suffered a loss in the conference up until this past weekend’s series with the Mavericks.

It’s those accomplishments that has veteran players like senior forward Garrett Thompson thinking this year’s squad has what it takes to make it back to the Frozen Four.

“From the beginning of the year in August when the freshman were coming in and everyone was funneling back to school, it was the set-up where we envisioned the same kind of year as the Frozen Four year,” he said. “That was a year that was almost incomparable to any season you could have at any level.

“Coming in this year, there was a tight bond early with all the freshman and the guys we had coming back,” he continued. “We knew we had something special and we knew we had the elements this year that we’ve had in those years before.”

Thompson (11-21-23), who along with junior goaltender CJ Motte is a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in Division I hockey, is part of a group of four other seniors, including captain Scott Czarnowczan (4-13-17), Cory Kane (5-6-11), Justin DeMartino (4-6-10) and Andy Huff (4-5-9), who have provided veteran leadership for the Bulldogs.

While key juniors like Justin Buzzeo (10-12-22) and Jason Binkley (3-14-17) have also led the way for the Bulldogs this season, it’s the contributions the team has gotten from an impressive group of freshman and sophomores that has the Bulldogs aiming for another deep postseason run.

Freshmen Kyle Schempp (7-10-17), Chad McDonald (5-9-14), Gerald Mayhew (2-7-9) and Ryan Loney (0-8-8) have combined with sophomores like Matt Robertson (10-4-14), Kenny Babinski (6-7-13) and Brandon Anselmini (3-6-9) to give the Bulldogs one of the deeper rosters in the country.

It’s the balanced production the Bulldogs are getting from both their veterans and their younger players that has veterans like Czarnowczan believing these young playmakers will continue to pay dividends for the Bulldogs through the rest of the season.

“We’ve got guys like Robertson, Schempp and McDonald that are part of a group of young guys who are just doing their job,” he said. “They’re going to do well when it comes to be their time to be juniors and seniors. It’s going to be good for us in the long run as we head toward the playoffs because we’re going to need guys like them to step up again.”

Although many of the Bulldogs’ younger players have started to develop into key contributors, Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said it’s the leadership his veteran players provide both on the ice and off it that has helped the younger Bulldogs in their development.

“You gotta start by looking at the leadership and production we get from our veteran players,” he said. “You take those veterans and you add that secondary group of freshman and sophomores that we’re getting contributions from and that’s helped us have the success that we’ve had so far this season.”

Daniels said its the leadership his older players provide outside of the ice rink that has helped the Bulldogs the most.

“Our veterans are teaching the younger guys what it takes to be successful,” he said. “You look at our current seniors who learned from guys like Chad Billins, Zach Redmond, Taylor Nelson and guys like that and they’ve used what they learned as young players and now they’ve stepped up into those leadership roles.”

Daniels said it’s especially important for the older players to take the younger players under their wing considering the amount of time the players spend together without the coaches watching over them.

“As much time as we get with the players as coaches, you can multiply that by three when you’re talking about the time the players spend with each other in the locker room, in the classroom and outside of practice,” he said. “With the upperclassmen, we trust them to be preaching the right lessons to the younger guys when the coaches aren’t around.”

It’s those lessons the current Bulldog veterans learned from their mentors that they’ve passed down to the younger players which have helped the team get off to such a hot start.

“When you come in as a freshman, you look at the guys ahead of you and you see what they do and you just pick up their characteristics,” he said. “You pick up the different aspects of the game and look at the veterans and you try to resemble them as much as you can because you know one day you’re going to be there.

“You just take notes and work toward that,” he continued. “I think when you get to that point when you’re an older player, you’re so prepared for it that it just comes naturally and I think our senior class has done a great job of leading by example.”

The Bulldogs return to action this weekend with a road series with WCHA foe Michigan Tech. Both Friday’s and Saturday’s game will be televised locally on Ferris Television, which is channel 97 for cable subscribers in Mecosta County and channel 22 on the FSU campus.

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