DETROIT – Two weeks ago, after his team had defeated Bowling Green, Ferris State coach Bob Daniels stood outside the visitor’s lockerroom and was visibly worried. His first-place Bulldogs would have to face – gasp! – last-place Lake Superior State in the best-of-three round of the CCHA Playoffs at home. Don’t laugh. He was actually worried.
After thoroughly sweeping the Lakers by scores of 6-1 and 6-1, though, Daniels has more confidence now – going into the Super Six – than he did last weekend.
“I think the pressure’s off,” Daniels said. “I know this is crazy, but early on (in the season), we didn’t have the bullseye, but we were wire to wire. By the time we hit our series at Notre Dame, the very first weekend after the holiday break, it was pretty clear-cut that we were a team in the hunt.
“Of all the times our team felt the pressure, I think it was last week against Lake State. Because to have the season we did and lose last week would have been devastating. We felt pressure to hold onto our spot the entire second half of the year, then we felt an enormous amount of pressure last weekend. But now, it’s almost as if we’re playing with someone else’s money.”
For Daniels, this season has been a dream ride after last year’s disappointing ninth-place finish, despite having the league’s leading scorer in Chris Kunitz.
“I still think it was a surprise,” Daniels said of the jump from ninth to first. “I didn’t think it was a surprise we did well. I don’t think it was a surprise that we got home ice (in the first round) and we’re at the Joe. I do think it was a surprise we won the league. I really think this validates our membership in the league.”
Now as a “valid” member, the Bulldogs will play Michigan State, Northern Michigan or Notre Dame tomorrow. Ferris State, as the No. 1 seed, will play the lowest remaining seed from today’s games at Joe Louis Arena. Third-seeded Ohio State is the only team Ferris State cannot face (if Ohio State beats the sixth-seeded Irish, it will play Michigan in the semifinals tomorrow).
Though the No. 1 seed guarantees safety from seeing the Wolverines or Buckeyes until the final, the Bulldogs – making their first trip to the Super Six since 1993, when they pulled a stunning 3-2 overtime upset on Michigan State – are now worried about the hot streak of this year’s Spartans.
“One of the big stories of the year is Michigan State starting off a bit slow, and I think people were thinking, ‘This is going to be an off year,’ ” Daniels said. “Now they’re one of the top teams in the conference and the country. I think (Michigan State head coach) Rick Comley has done an outstanding job with that – I don’t know too many coaches that could have withstood that pressure.
But even with the red-hot Spartans possibly standing in the way of Ferris State, the Bulldogs are still focused on the task at hand.
“As crazy as it sounds, it means as much to us to win the playoff series maybe as much as it would to win a national title,” Daniels said.
If Daniels and the rest of the Bulldogs add to their first regular season title ever with a first-ever playoff title, Joe Louis is expected to be filled with many wearing maroon and gold.
“We always had a pretty good core group of support, but obviously this year we’ve brought in some other elements that have excited alumns that may have lost touch with the program a little bit,” Daniels said. “There’s a certain buzz around the city that’s really exciting. Certainly the players are enjoying the opportunity to be big celebrities.”
Besides the extra support from fans, Daniels did have a separate thanks to the media who wrote them off as being the No. 9 team in preseason polls earlier this season.
“It was one last kick in the butt, but it was a deserved kick in the butt,” Daniels said.