TAMPA, Fla. — The national championship game features a classic David vs. Goliath matchup.
Ferris State, the decided underdog, will try to knock off the giant, Boston College, and claim its first NCAA championship on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
A Bulldogs victory against the Eagles could rank as one of the greatest upsets in an NCAA title game.
Boston College is 32-10-1 overall, has won 18 consecutive games, outscored its opponents 78-21 during that stretch and has been ranked No. 1 since late February. The Eagles are seeking their third Frozen Four championship in five seasons.
FSU is 26-11-5, went 15 games (11-0-4) without a loss from early January to late February, is 4-3 in its last seven contests and has won three in a row.
Bob Daniels, Ferris State’s head coach, is fine with being the underdog and believes his team has a better chance of winning than most followers give the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s regular-season champion.
“I’m sure we’ll field questions on how it feels to be underdogs and I can tell you that we’re fine with that. If we’re the decided underdog, so be it,’’ Daniels said.
“We had an opportunity to watch Boston College play live last night. Up to that point, we had seen them on TV here and there and always appreciated their game. Watching them last night was different. Seeing them live, seeing their speed and tenacity reminded me of some of the Michigan teams we’ve faced in the 1990s when they were rolling.
“But, I’m thinking to myself that we may not be as decided of an underdog as some people may think. We have a confidence borne out of a difficult conference we play in.’’
Since the enrollments of Ferris State and Boston College are similar, it’s not so much a small school against big school scenario. But, the Eagles are the better known program because of history and tradition and being a Division I school that plays national powers in football and basketball.
Yet, Boston College head coach Jerry York knows what it’s like to be in Ferris State’s situation where it’s difficult to compete at a high level for a long period of time. He coached at Bowling Green for 15 years and faced tough challenges against Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin as well as playing the odd game against Eastern schools like BC, Boston University and Maine.
“Someone said this morning that Ferris State has nothing to lose and you have everything to lose. We want to win trophies, so everybody’s got something to lose at this point, unless you don’t want to win trophies,’’ York said. “So there’s nobody here that has nothing to lose.
“I have great respect for the CCHA and I understand the dynamics of Big Rapids and the kind of program they have at Ferris State. Any team that can win the CCHA (title), with Michigan in there, and Miami (Ohio), too, and some powerful teams (has to be pretty good).’’
In Thursday’s semifinals, FSU and Union and BC and Minnesota were involved in matchups against opponents with similar styles.
The Bulldogs and Dutchmen play a more deliberate, defensive game with a focus on staying patient and creating offense off turnovers. In a tight-checking, defensive struggle, FSU pulled out a 3-1 victory.
The Eagles and Gophers played a fast, puck-possession game and BC was more opportunistic and had a better finishing touch in cruising to a 6-1 victory.
Now that it’s Ferris State and Boston College in the final game of the season, the matchup involves teams with opposite styles. But each team will try to set the tone by playing its own game, and giving itself the best chance to win.
“The fact is, they’re a very good team and we will not be able to play very loose. We’re going to have to be on top of our game,’’ Daniels said. “We have to be hitting at 100 percent.
“If we start freelancing, we’re going to be in trouble. If we don’t play our best style of game, we’re going to have big problems. The nerves are gone now but this time (on Saturday), they’ll be back and I know it and the players know it. We’ll have to get through the first 10 minutes of the game and then settle into a rhythm.’’
The Bulldogs will rely heavily on senior goaltender Taylor Nelson, senior defensemen Chad Billins , Brent Wysopal and a group of defensive-minded yet opportunistic forwards to stifle Boston College’s prolific offense, and create some quality scoring oppourtunities.
The Eagles offense is the most balanced in the nation with three lines capable of scoring consistently. The skill level is extremely high with five players totaling 17 goals or more — junior Chris Kreider (23), senior Barry Almeida (22), freshman Johnny Gaudreau (20), senior Paul Carey (17) and sophomore Bill Arnold (17).
“We have to make it a defensive battle. There’s been a lot of talk about BC’s speed and offensive abilities but obviously they’re doing very well defensively,’’ Daniels said.
“With that in mind, and their ability score, we can’t hand them chances. We can’t be giving them turnovers, we can’t allow easy plays, odd-man rushes.’’
The Bulldogs, who probably never dreamed they’d be in this position this season, are eager for their greatest challenge.
“You always want to play the best to be the best,’’ FSU senior forward Jordie Johnston said. “It’s the perfect opportunity for us to play a team that’s been here numerous times. That’s exciting for us.
“We’ve played fast teams all year. We’re used to it. I know BC maybe a step above what we’re used to, but our game plan is to slow teams down. We make teams make mistakes and make them slow down to our pace. I think that can really throw a wrench into some of their game plan.
“It’ll be one of those battles where it will be a power offense against a really strong defense.’’
Boston College’s plan is quite simple: Keep playing the way it’s been playing and with the same energy and enthusiasm.
“We play so many opponents that you can’t adjust to every team you play. So you better keep your own ship ready,’’ York said. “We work on fundamentals. We work on ‘Here’s what we do.’ And we tweak things a bit. Ferris is a little different than Minnesota. Minnesota is different than New Hampshire.
“I think our focus is pretty easy. You have one game to win a trophy. We’re looking at that shiny trophy.’’