College hockey analysts will tell you that successful teams are solid defensively and Ferris State appears to be well fortified as a number of quality, experienced skaters return.
No one can argue last season's 21 victories, a third-place finish in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) regular-season standings, an appearance in the CCHA Championships, and a top-15 national ranking by Ferris State could be directly a result of the Bulldogs' stellar defensive play on a consistent basis.
As a result, Ferris State led the nation in penalty-kill percentage at .884 and placed sixth among the national scoring defense leaders by allowing only 2.30 goals per game.
This season, patrolling in front of the Bulldog goal will be an experienced defensive unit which welcomes back seven of its eight letterwinners from the 2009-10 team.
"There's no question that defense and goaltending are the strengths of our team," said Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels. "We have a good mix of skill sets within our defensive corps along with size, strength, and speed which adds a lot to this season's team. I believe we're capable of having one of the CCHA's top defensive units if not nationally."
Anchoring the group is senior Zach Redmond (Traverse City), a 2009-10 All-Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Second-Team selection, who tallied a career single-season high 27 points on six goals and 21 assists which were also career season bests. Redmond, a 2008 draft pick of the National Hockey League's (NHL) Atlanta Thrashers, not only lead all Bulldog defensemen in scoring last season but also chalked up at least a point in 21 of 40 games played in to go with a squad fourth-most tying five multiple-point game performances. A three-time (Oct. 26, Dec. 14, and Jan. 11) CCHA Defenseman of the Week selection, the 6-2, 205-pound Redmond earned second-team plaudits by MichiganCollegeHockey.com (MiCHO) following the 2009-10 campaign.
"Zach has been a headline player for Ferris State the last two seasons and has emerged as one of the top performers in the CCHA in that time," said Daniels. "He's certainly deserving of All-America consideration this season and will play a vital role in the success we achieve."
Redmond will be paired on the top line by junior Chad Billins (Marysville), who played together with Redmond in 36 games a season ago. Billins finished tied for 13th place among the team's overall points leaders with career season-high tying 11 total as a result of netting a career season-best three lamplighters and garnering eight assists in 40 contests. The 5-10, 175-pound defender compiled a team eighth-most four multi-point game outings and accounted for the winning league encounter shootout goal on two occasions - the combined 22-player shootout at top-ranked Miami (Nov. 14) on FSU's 11 attempt and in a four-round decision at Ohio State (Jan. 30).
Junior Brett Wysopal (LaGrange Park, Ill.) certainly made the most of his Ferris State debut last season after sitting out the 2008-09 season due to the NCAA Division I transfer rule. The Colorado College transfer generated 18 points on three goals and 15 helpers in 39 games last season to place tied for seventh in team scoring. The 5-8, 175-pound skater was second to Redmond in points among FSU's 2009-10 blueliners while his five multiple-point outings represented a tie for fourth most on the squad. He was tabbed as the CCHA Defenseman of the Week (Nov. 9) for his productive weekend performance.
Another Bulldog to keep an eye on is senior Scott Wietecha (Wolverine Lake), who racked up 11 points on a goal and 10 assists in 21 appearances before an injury sidelined him the final 16 games of the 2009-10 campaign. Wietecha notched at least a point in eight outings and had three multi-point game efforts. The 6-2, 208-pound blueliner has fully recovered from his injury and hopes to make the most of his final collegiate season on the ice.
Ferris State also brings back a trio of "defensive" defensemen in juniors Michael Trebish (Yorkton, Saskatchewan), Aaron Schmit (Grafton, Wis.), and Tommy Hill (Portage). Trebish, a 6-1, 195-pound skater, played in 24 2009-10 encounters and tallied one point on an assist. Trebish posted a plus one efficiency rating and was bestowed with the 2009-10 squad's FSU Scholar-Athlete Award for having the team's highest cumulative grade point average. The 6-4, 229-pound Schmit compiled a plus two efficiency rating to go with two points on a goal and assist each in 18 contests. Hill, a 6-5, 215-pound player, was a 2009-10 co-recipient of the team's Steve Banonis Memorial Most Improved Player Award as he played in a career-most 21 contests and recorded 16 blocked shots, which also marked a career single-season high. All three were productive performers and have positioned themselves to make a good case for increased ice time this upcoming season.
Scott Czarnowczan (Macomb) is the lone newcomer to Ferris State's defensive corps after spending the 2009-10 season in the junior ranks with the Green Bay (Wis.) Gamblers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). The 5-10, 176-pound freshman produced 20 points with a pair of markers and 18 assists in 57 outings last season.
Next Installment: "The Countdown To Faceoff" series continues this Tuesday (Sept. 28) with analysis of the goaltending area.