TAMPA — Where's Ferris?
Yes, the Bulldogs from Ferris State have gotten a "Bueller … ?"-type reaction as they've advanced in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike Boston College, their opponent in tonight's Frozen Four national title game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Bulldogs don't come from a major market and are not associated with a traditional power conference.
They don't mind that many couldn't point out their Big Rapids, Mich., campus on a map or instantly recognize any other Ferris State sports team (hockey is the only Division I sport at the otherwise Division II school). After all, many of their initial reactions to Ferris State were a blank stare, too.
"I kind of looked at the card," said junior forward Kyle Bonis, remembering his first interaction with associate head coach Drew Famulak, when he was 16. "And it was like, 'Who is Ferris State?'
"We kind of enjoy (the anonymity). We're a bunch of kids that are kind of small town and, in a lot of cases, kids that big schools took a pass on. Every time we win games … and play well, it's like, 'Maybe they made a mistake.' "
In a study of counterparts, there's no mistaking the pedigree of Ferris State's opponent, Boston College, nor the level of difficulty the Bulldogs face in trying to collect their first national title. Boston College is the consensus No. 1 team in the country, in the Frozen Four for the fifth time in seven years and gunning for its third title in the past five seasons. The latter has not been accomplished in more than a half-century.
Beyond the storied tradition coach Jerry York has established at his alma mater, the Eagles, while technically a "smaller" school than Ferris State (9,099 undergraduates compared to 13,543), are located just outside of Boston and are one piece of an athletic department that has several prominent squads.
"Clearly, we're a nationally known school as far as athletics and play in the ACC," York said. "We play Florida State and Duke in basketball. In hockey, we play Boston University and Maine. We're a Division I school in all sports where Ferris is just Division I in hockey, so they might not be as well-known to the ACC people or Pac-12."
Even in the hockey world, there's a distinct difference between the programs. The NHL comes to Chestnut Hill, Mass., on a regular basis. Boston College has had at least one draft pick every year since 1996, and nine on its current roster already have been drafted.
None of the current Bulldogs have been drafted, and most were passed over in the recruiting process by schools such as Boston College.
Few came in with as little fanfare as Bonis, who scored the winning goal in Thursday's semifinal against Union.
Only offered an opportunity to walk-on with the Bulldogs two years ago, Bonis grew up on a 2,000-acre farm off a dirt road 10 minutes outside of Lindsay, Ontario. When he wasn't caring for his family's 120 cows or on a tractor tending to the genetic soybeans last summer, Bonis was in his barn, shooting puck after puck to quicken his release.
All that work paid off with 4:43 left in the third period Thursday, and the Bulldogs now share the stage with the high-flying Eagles.
"It's kind of surreal," Bonis said. "We get to play for the national championship."
Laura Keeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.