Ferris State hockey’s stellar season delights students, Big Rapids locals

GOAL: Fans cheer on Saturday after Ferris State scores a goal.

BIG RAPIDS — In 11 years, Paul Weisenstein hasn’t missed a Ferris State hockey game or practice. He wears a Bulldogs jersey in the stands and holds the self-proclaimed honor of “loudest in the ice rink.”

Even though Weisenstein, of Big Rapids, has carefully watched the program take shape during the past 11 years, even he was surprised to see this season take off like it did.

“Last year, we had nine seniors graduate and got nine freshmen in, but from the beginning of the season, you could see them just grow together,” Weisenstein said. “They gelled, and it was exciting to see because I’ve never seen a team gel like these kids. …To have so many young freshmen come in and play the caliber of hockey they have is incredible.”

Weisenstein describes this year’s Bulldogs as a team without individual superstars, especially in comparison to Notre Dame and Western Michigan, who both had players drafted into the NHL last year.

“We’ve got zero NHL draftees,” he said. “We don’t have just one superstar. But we’ve got 26 superstars as far as I’m concerned.”

The Bulldogs concluded their regular season with a record of at 22-9-5 overall and a 16-7-5 record in the CCHA, winning the league by four points over second-place Michigan and earning them a No. 1 ranking in the nation this month.

Ferris State dropped game three of the best-of-three series against Bowling Green on Sunday, 4-3 in overtime. The loss denied FSU a trip to Joe Louis Ice Arena, with the Falcons taking the series 2-1. Ferris State now awaits its NCAA tournament fate, with the field being selected on Sunday.

Despite Sunday’s loss, the season was one Big Rapids resident Jason Roper said could put Big Rapids on the map.

“This is really bringing something to the community, not only to the students and Ferris,” he said. “Financially, I think it’ll help the city grow. I’ve talked to kids from downstate in the Detroit area who want to come and play hockey for Ferris.”

Matt Leindecker, a Ferris sophomore who wears a monkey suit in the Dawg Pound, said his friends at larger schools are starting to take notice of Ferris State sports.

“We’ve been known as a nobody and now, with all our sports doing so good, people are starting to recognize who we are,” he said. “My friends go to bigger-name schools, like Michigan and Michigan State, and now they know Ferris.”

Despite the weekend’s games taking place at the end of spring break, students packed the Dawg Pound to cheer on their team. The decision to come back a bit early to see the team play was a no-brainer, Leindecker said.

“They love us as much as we love them, so we need to show our support and help them keep momentum for the rest of the season,” he said.

Ferris sophomore Murphy McDougall also was feeling the love on Saturday while watching the Bulldogs. A Big Rapids native, McDougall has been attending games at Ewigleben Ice Arena since he was a child when his father played on the team. Now, he works at the arena and he loves seeing his hometown come together to support the team.

“The town of Big Rapids is made of great people and it’s always good to get more support from the community, but the amount they’re giving us right now is great,” he said. “We have high schoolers coming here, little kids running around. That was my childhood. I grew up here, my dad played here, so it’s nice to see kids here cheering too.”

Spending so much time attending games and practices gives Weisenstein a personal connection to the Bulldogs, and he said it’s something many Big Rapids people share.

“They’re nice kids, excellent young gentlemen. The coaching staff is great, too,” Weisenstein said. “Naturally, I’d like to see them win the playoff at the Joe and go on to win the national championship. It’s gonna be tough, but if they stay focused, I believe they can do it. I really do.”

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos of the fans at Sunday’s game.

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Posted by Whitney Gronski-Buffa

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