TAMPA - For a school that has produced its fair share of giant slayers, from Doug Flutie to Dana Barros to Brian Gionta, some words of caution for Boston College: Beware of the little guy.
Ferris State, Boston College’s opponent Saturday night in the final of the Frozen Four at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, is a Little Guy in the grand scheme of college hockey. This is Ferris’s first national title game, first Frozen Four, and only its second NCAA Tournament appearance. Ferris State doesn’t have a single player who has been selected in the NHL draft. BC has nine.
If you polled the sportswriters here - especially yours truly - some could not tell you where Ferris State is located (Big Rapids, Mich., approximately 60 miles north of Grand Rapids). The school sounds like a fictitious university you would find in a sophomoric flick about higher-education hijinks starring Will Ferrell or airhead-portraying actress Anna Faris, not one challenging BC for college hockey supremacy.
The skaters from Ferris State, founded by former Michigan governor and senator Woodbridge N. Ferris and his wife Helen in 1884, plan on being more than just a frozen foil for the top-seeded Eagles, winners of 18 consecutive games.
“You always want to play the best to be the best,’’ said Ferris State’s leading scorer Jordie Johnston. “It’s a perfect opportunity for us to play a team that’s been here numerous times, countless times. 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.’’
The Bulldogs are the decided underdogs in the Frozen Four finale, which is supposed to be a formality for the boys from BC, who haven’t lost since Jan. 21 and have buzz-sawed opponents to the tune of 73-20 over the course of their 18-game romp. BC and scalding-hot goaltender Parker Milner have allowed more than two goals in a game just once during that span, the first game of the streak, a 4-3 win over New Hampshire on Jan. 27.
But the Eagles, coming off a 6-1 obliteration of Minnesota, said all the right things Friday about not overlooking the Bulldogs.
‘It’s a perfect opportunity for us to play a team that’s been here numerous times.’Jordie Johnston
“To be honest, I don’t even think that’s an issue in our locker room,’’ said defenseman and senior captain Tommy Cross. “With the character guys that we have and with a national championship on the line there’s no looking past anyone like that. All we have to do is look at the past two weeks at the teams Ferris has played and the performances that they’ve had. Saturday night is going to be arguably our toughest game of the season. We’re going to prepare that way, and we’re going to have to play our A game.’’
If it weren’t Boston College playing in the final, Ferris State, champions of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, would be the team that lights the lamp of the sporting heart.
BC, playing in its fifth Frozen Four in seven seasons, is one of the bluebloods of college hockey. With a win, the Eagles can become the first team since Denver in 1961 to win three national titles in a span of five years or fewer. Ferris State is a comparative pauper. The school almost disbanded its program 21 years ago. The people of Big Rapids and the university community rallied to save it from the scrap yard. Play wasn’t suspended, but the damage was done, said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels, an assistant at the time who took over the program the following season, 1992-93.
“I did think it took a little bit of time to get over the perception that the program had been dropped,’’ said Daniels, named Division 1 Coach of the Year for the second time. “It had an impact in recruiting, and we had to kind of repackage and resell. But we didn’t have to repackage it and resell it to our fans. We were very fortunate that we never lost our fan base. We lost quite a few hockey games, but we never did lose the fan base. I think slowly we turned it around and built off of that.’’
Even though Ferris State was ranked No. 1 in the country for two weeks in February, this is a hockey version of “Hoosiers.’’
While BC has blown away the competition in the tournament by a score of 12-1, Ferris has squeaked out each of its games in the tournament, beating both Denver and Cornell by 2-1 scores, and Union, 3-1.
The Bulldogs were picked to finish ninth out of 11 schools in the CCHA preseason poll; Frozen Fours are a berth rite (pun intended) at BC.
The hero from Ferris State’s semifinal win over Union was Kyle Bonis, a former walk-on who grew up on a farm in Ontario. You can’t make this stuff up.
BC coach Jerry York, who is seeking his fifth national title as a coach and fourth at BC, wisely tried to defuse the David-vs.-Goliath angle.
BC’s pucks prelate said both teams have the same thing at stake - a national title.
“Somebody said this morning, ‘Ferris State has nothing to lose. You have everything to lose,’ said Gentleman Jerry. “Everybody has something to lose at this point, unless you don’t want to win a trophy. There is nobody here that has nothing to lose. I got a great deal of respect for Ferris. I was in the CCHA for 15 years [at Bowling Green], so I understand the dynamics of Big Rapids. I understand what kind of program they’ve had.’’
Sorry, but Ferris State is definitely wearing the mantle of the Little Guy. Here’s hoping they don’t pull off a big upset.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.