So a friend/colleague that covers hockey, but doesn't get to see much college hockey asked me today: This Ferris State team has no chance at the Frozen Four, right? That's not to pick on him in particular because I've heard that sentiment expressed quite a bit over the past week and a half from people outside the world of college hockey, and even heard it a significant amount from people that follow college hockey.
The irony of that is that it's likely that that question would never be asked if Michigan, or Michigan State, or Miami had made the Frozen Four, and Ferris State finished comfortably ahead of all those teams in CCHA play this year. Yes, Ferris State is in a small city, with a small campus, and a less than glamorous arena, and because of all those reasons, they aren't likely to be a year-in, year-out powerhouse that draws big name players. But this year, they've assembled a pretty damn good hockey team. They may not win the Frozen Four, but their bid to be there is far from a fluke.
How does a team with no NHL Draft picks make it to the Frozen Four? After the jump, we'll take a look at some of the trends on the Ferris State roster.
-Age and experience are without a doubt a factor. Ferris State's top five scorers and starting goalie are all upperclassmen, and all six were born in the 1980's(a typical student went straight to college after graduating and finished college in four years would be born in 1990 this year). By comparison, the players on Minnesota's roster born in the '80s are: 5th leading scorer Jake Hansen, 8th leading scorer Taylor Matson, third-pairing D Jake Parenteau, and spare parts Nico Sacchetti, Nick Larson, Tom Serratore, and Joey Miller.
-The Bulldogs top two scorers, Jordie Johnston and Matthew Kirzinger, as well as starting goalie Taylor Nelson all came out of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Looking at the other teams to recruit players out of the SJHL around that time--with the exception of Colorado College recruiting the Schwartz brothers, who played at Notre Dame Prep, which is kind of a different situation--the list of schools taking players out of that league is pretty unimpressive. The downside of that is that the league obviously isn't very talent-rich. The upside is that when there are good players to be had, Ferris is able to land them with relatively little competition.
-The strength of this team has been its defense, and the Bulldogs recruited some genuine skill there. All of the Bulldogs regular defensemen are veterans of the USHL. Chad Billins and Jason Binkley both made USA Hockey's national festivals in their age groups, but size kept them from being more highly thought of prospects. In fact, Aaron Schmit is the only regular defenseman with prototypical size of ove 6 feet tall.(Michael Trebish and Tommy Hill, who each played about half of their team's games are also over 6 feet tall). But the majority of ice time for the Bulldogs is eaten up by smaller, puck-moving defensemen.
-It probably goes without saying that a lot of Ferris State's players are late-bloomers. Forwards Eric Alexander and Nate Milam, along with Billins, played high school hockey in Michigan. Others key players, such as Scott Czarnowczan, Andy Huff, Justin DeMartino, and Taylor Nelson were all still playing Midget AAA hockey at an age when most conventional college prospects had moved on to juniors.
-The Bulldogs had a really solid pipeline from the Traverse City North Stars(NAHL) team, about an hour and a half from their campus, that has provided them with some key players including Billins, Kyle Bonis, Andy Huff, Garrett Thompson, and Derek Graham.