Ferris State not shaken by underdog status

7:39 AM, Apr 7, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida (Steve Kornacki/Detroit Free Press Special Writer) -

There is no doubt that the Ferris State Bulldogs are the underdogs as they face Boston College in tonight's Frozen Four championship game.

No. 1 seed Boston College (32-10-1) has steamrolled opponents. The Eagles beat Minnesota, 6-1, in the semifinals, outscored NCAA Division I tournament opponents, 12-1, and have won 18 consecutive games.

All that stands in the way for their first national championship since 2010 and third in five years is nationally unknown Ferris State from Big Rapids.

The Bulldogs, making their first Frozen Four appearance, are "Rocky" and "Hoosiers" all rolled into one.

Forward Kyle Bonis, who tallied the go-ahead goal in Thursday night's 3-1 win over Union College, talked about overcoming those odds.

"I've been thinking about playing for a national championship game since I was 3 years old, to be honest with you," Bonis said. "It's hard not to think about that stuff, but it's there and sometimes you just have to use it as motivation. We all believed we could get here and we all believed that we could win this."

Bonis is a walk-on from Lindsay, Ontario -- -- but he said he always would "dream big."

"I'm from a small town and live on a dirt road," he said. "I spend my summers sitting on a tractor. But if you love the game, you'll work hard at it and never give up. And who knows what can happen? You might be at a Frozen Four sometime."

The Bulldogs (26-11-5) aren't buying that they don't have a chance against a team with four national championships and 23 Frozen Four appearances that rank second only to Michigan's 24. After all, Denver -- which Ferris State defeated, 2-1, in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal -- topped BC, 4-2, early this season.

"It's a perfect opportunity for us to play a team that's been here numerous times, countless times," said Jordie Johnston, Ferris State's leading goal scorer with 20. "That's obviously exciting for us. Being this is our first time, we can hopefully start creating a dynasty of our own. That's what we're here to do."

Eagles forward Bill Arnold is using reverse psychology in his approach to facing Ferris State, and said, "We just need to go about our business like we have all year and prepare like we're playing Goliath."

If you are looking for one reason the Bulldogs could claim their first national championship, look no further than goalie Taylor Nelson. Nelson, like his BC counterpart, Parker Milner, is a hot goalie. And a hot goalie always gives a team the chance to win.

He has allowed one goal in each of the three NCAA wins, stopping 74 of 77 shots for a .961 save percentage. Nelson was the NCAA Midwest Regional tournament MVP.

Milner, a junior, has been one save short of perfection. He has stopped 83 of 84 shots for a .988 save percentage.

Boston College has five players with 17 or more goals, led by Chris Kreider with 23.

"What separates BC is they have all three lines that can score," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said Thursday.

Ferris State has just two players with more than 10 goals: Johnston and Bonis.

"It's funny, no one recruited Kyle Bonis," Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels said. "We're probably the only school that recruited him. But we had a chance to see him play in Traverse City. He's always been a scorer ... I think certainly we were concerned about his skating.

"He's had a history of scoring goals since he was a 14-, 15-year-old."

He worked on his skating and defense to become a complete player from completely out of nowhere.

Like many of his teammates, Bonis was a diamond in the rough. But now Ferris State has a polished team full of gritty performers, including defenseman Brett Wysopal and forward Aaron Schmit, the converted defenseman who scored twice against Union.

They are confident despite the odds.

As Bonis said while walking out of the winning locker room Thursday night: "We are only half way to history."

More Details: final facts

Matchup: Ferris State (26-11-5) vs. Boston College (32-10-1).

Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa.

When: 7 tonight.



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