Bulldog Sports

1999-2000 Ferris State University Hockey Preview

Brian McCullough Many questions surround the 1999-2000 Ferris State University hockey team. Defensively, the Bulldogs are relatively young and inexperienced. Offensively, 36 percent of last season's offense graduated with the departure of seven forwards. Nevertheless, eighth-year head coach Bob Daniels is excited about his talented, youthful team heading into the upcoming season.

"We have another great group of student-athletes to work with this season," said Daniels, who currently ranks second among FSU's all-time winningest coaches with 100 career victories. "The guys we have coming back have a great work ethic, and I'm really excited about the new players we have coming in and the opportunity to work with them.

"With the loss of 11 seniors, we will feel the pinch early in the season due to our inexperience. The emergence of leadership will be a critical element to our team's success," added Daniels.

In order to win this season, Ferris will need to play with patience and maturity. The Bulldogs were 14-16-6 last season, representing their best mark in six years. The Bulldogs placed sixth in the CCHA with a 13-12-5 mark and qualified for the CCHA Tournament for the 18th time in the program's 20-year NCAA Division I history.

Last season was also a success on the national level as FSU finished sixth in scoring defense (2.42 avg.), seventh in penalty killing (.876) and 25th in scoring margin (0.06). Moreover, the Bulldogs' 2.42 goals against average was the lowest in school history.

Goaltending

Ferris State returns perhaps the best one-two punch in the CCHA, if not in the nation, in junior Vince Owen and sophomore Phil Osaer. With Osaer's emergence, goaltending may be Ferris' strongest and most competitive position this season. Owen, the only Bulldog netminder returning this season with any considerable collegiate experience, will be an anchor between the pipes. Owen received the starting nod in 31 games a season ago and responded with a 12-14-5 record while compiling a 2.45 goals against average and a .910 saves percentage. The team's Most Valuable Player last season, Owen set single-season school records for best goals against average (2.45), saves percentage (.910) and shutouts (4). Owen, who was named to the 1998-99 All-CCHA Honorable Mention Team and was a three-time CCHA Defensive Player-of-the-Week He presently ranks first in career goals against average (2.86) and shutouts (5) at Ferris and is second in saves percentage (.894). Owen finished the 1998-99 season ranked 12th nationally in goals against average and 13th in saves percentage.

In all likelihood, Owen will be splitting duties at the start of the season with Osaer, a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Osaer posted a 2-2-1 record in net with a 1.51 goals against average and .947 saves percentage in nine outings and held the distinction of being the league's top netminder in last season's postseason action.

Forwards

The forward position was hardest hit by graduation as FSU lost a group of seven seniors who not only were responsible for 44 percent of the Bulldogs' goal production in 1998-99, but provided invaluable leadership and experience on the ice.

The most significant loss up front is Joel Irwin, who finished his four-year career at Ferris with 111 points and was second on the squad with 23 points a season ago. Despite the losses, the Bulldogs return one of the league's top offensive threats in senior Brian McCullough (14-14 -- 28), who led Ferris in scoring last season with 28 points in 35 games. He totaled six multi-point games a season ago, third highest on the squad, while receiving CCHA Offensive Player-of-the-Week kudos on one occasion. Seniors Brent Wishart (7-13 -- 20) and Rob Kozak (3-8 -- 11) not only bring experience to the table, but leadership and proven on-ice ability. As a result, both were chosen as assistant captains for this upcoming season.

The FSU coaching staff is hoping Wishart will continue his solid play after placing fourth in team scoring last year. Kozak will be counted upon to anchor the Bulldogs' checking line. Junior Kevin Swider (12-10 -- 22) put together another productive year last season by placing third in team scoring. He possesses the uncanny ability of making players around him better.

One of the league's promising scorers is sophomore Rob Collins (3-9 -- 12), who earned FSU Rookie-of-the-Year honors last season after producing the highest point total among the squad's first-year players. Jon Rogger (1-3 -- 4), the team's Most Improved Player in 1998-99, returns for his junior year and will welcome three talented rookies in freshmen Chris Kunitz, Phil Lewandowski, and Scott Markowsky.

Defense

Junior Jim Dube (7-13 -- 20), a CCHA Honorable Mention honoree last season, senior Gary Ricciardi (0-1 -- 1), and junior Scott Lewis (2-5-- 7) will anchor a blueline corps which includes six returnees. Dube and Ricciardi will take over the leadership role after being selected team captains. The pair, who shared the team's Scholar-Athlete Award last season, logged some quality minutes and will provide the Bulldogs with a solid nucleus on the blueline. Dube, a 1998-99 third-team Academic All-American, recorded personal highs in virtually every statistical category and finished tied for fourth in team scoring. He compiled four multi-point games and paced the Bulldogs with five game-winning assists.

Ricciardi received the team's Plus/Minus Award as a result of registering a team-leading plus/minus rating of +14 in 33 games. Solidifying the blueline will be a trio of sophomores in Jason Basile (1-3 -- 4), Chad McIver (0-1 -- 1), and Christian Schroder (0-2 -- 2). Battling for playing time will be highly-touted freshman Troy Milam, who Daniels believes can step in and contribute immediately.



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