Bulldogs ready to face Falcons

First place in WCHA on the line in weekend series

BIG RAPIDS — It’s hard for Ferris State hockey coach Bob Daniels to deny that his team is progressing nicely early in the conference season.

AT THE TOP: Senior forward Cory Kane (8) and the Ferris State hockey team will host Bowling Green for a weekend series with first place in the WCHA on the line. (Pioneer file photo)

AT THE TOP: Senior forward Cory Kane (8) and the Ferris State hockey team will host Bowling Green for a weekend series with first place in the WCHA on the line. (Pioneer file photo)

The Bulldogs (7-2-0, 4-0-0 WCHA) enter this weekend’s series against Bowling Green flying high as winners of five straight, including a perfect 4-0 start to the WCHA season. FSU has climbed to No. 14 in the early season rankings this week as a result of the win streak.

While the play has been encouraging on both ends of the ice, Daniels is still trying to keep things in perspective when the second place Falcons (5-3-2, 3-1-0 WCHA) visit Ewigleben Ice Arena. The puck will drop at 7:07 p.m. for both tonight and Saturday’s contests.

“I’m very happy with the start we’ve had,” he said. “I’m really happy about the contributions we’ve had coming from many different sectors of our team. Our veterans have stepped up recently along with our freshmen and sophomores and we’re getting good play from our defense.

“I’m happy with the start and to be ranked, but the reality is it’s a small snapshot of a very long season,” Daniels added. “We know we still have plenty of challenges to confront, but I like the leadership we’ve had.”

FSU’s success last weekend came from a productive blue line in a sweep of Bemidji State. The Bulldogs got a goal and three assists from Jason Binkley, while Scott Czarnowczan scored two goals to go with two assists in the two-game set, making for a lethal top defensive line.

With the recent season-ending injury to Simon Denis, one of the Bulldogs’ top scoring defensemen, Daniels said it is always good to see defensemen providing production, particularly on the power-play. Binkley (2 goals, 7 assists) was named the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Week against BSU, providing the game-winning goal in overtime on Friday, while Czarnowczan (4 goals, 6 assists) added two goals on Saturday.

“I thought (Binkley) and Scott Czarnowczan) both had strong weekends,” he said. “Jason’s game is really starting to come around, which, a lot of that is a credit to our depth as a whole. Guys like (Connor) Schmidt, (Sean) O’Rourke, (Zach) Dorer and (Ryan) Lowney have stepped up, which doesn’t leave all of the pressure on two guys.”

Ferris State will have its hands full against a Bowling Green team that has given the Bulldogs plenty of all-out battles over the past few years. In the past two seasons, the Bulldogs and Eagles have seen four of their matchups head into overtime, with FSU claiming an 8-3 record during that stretch.

The Bulldogs will face a Falcon squad that has been the top defensive team in the conference early in the season, surrendering just 1.25 goals per game.

The aggressive, hard fought nature the Falcons play with is something that has made the rivalry exciting over the last few years since Chris Bergeron and his staff took over the program four seasons ago.

“I think their coaching staff does a superb job with the team,” Daniels said. “When (Bergeron) took over, the team was kind of in disarray, but they’ve been a stabilizing influence in building the program. I don’t think it’s just against us, they’ve battled every single night I foresee that in the future.”

BGSU returns a number of veteran players on both ends of the ice, including Dan DeSalvo (3 goals, 8 assists), Bryce Williamson (6 goals, 5 assists). The Falcons also have gotten strong play in net, platooning Tomas Sholl (2-3-0, 2.00 goals against average, .915 save percentage) and Tommy Burke (3-0-2, 2.13 goals against average, .914 save percentage).

Daniels said the Falcons’ situation at goaltender is similar to FSU’s in that both teams have supreme confidence in two different netminders on any given night.

“They’re very similar to us in that regard, being comfortable with either guy,” he said. “We feel fortunate to have (CJ Motte and Charles Williams) and I’m sure Bowling Green feels the same way.”

After taking a step back on the power-play last weekend against Bemidji State, Daniels said that, along with the penalty kill, will continue to be points of emphasis heading into the weekend series.

“We want to stay out of the box,” he said. “The penalty kill has been good all season, but we kind of stubbed our toe last weekend. We want to start by limiting our time on the PK. The power-play was average at best on Saturday, so that’s an area we’d like to see a little more consistency in.”

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