If there's a question mark about the 2010-11 Ferris State team, the forward position is the primary area of uncertainty.
While the Bulldogs lost four letterwinners from last season's 21-13-6 squad, those four skaters played significant roles in the team's regular-season success and earning a trip to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Championships for the first time since 2002-03.
All told, the four individuals - team Most Valuable Player Blair Riley, Casey Haines, Cody Chupp,and Aaron Lewicki were among the 2009-10 team's top scoring leaders as the first three listed above finished in the top three slots for the highest season point totals.
For Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels, there is a cause for concern in 2010-11 but one in which the talent and experience on this season's team has the ability to adapt and overcome.
"This is our greatest unknown," said Daniels about the forward positions. "I also felt a season ago there was some uncertainty as we as a coaching staff had the same anxiety level about our offense but everything came together and we were pleased with their production.
"I have a lot of confidence that we do have some guys on this season's team who will step up to the challenge and carry us offensively," added Daniels.
With the departure of last season's senior forward class, Ferris State's primary issue is where the scoring is going to come from. Fortunately in seasons past, at least a couple of various skaters have increased their offensive production from the previous season and allowed the coaching staff to breathe a sigh of relief.
If history is able to repeat itself this upcoming season, then the Bulldogs should be in fine shape. After all, FSU does return 49 percent of its goal-scoring output and over 48 percent of the team's points production from the 2009-10 campaign.
While Ferris State has 11 quality skaters returning to the fold, none are bonafide big-time goal scorers. While the Bulldogs lack a major scoring threat, strong depth on each of the four forward lines should offset this problem.
FSU certainly has has a high number of players who are poised for breakout seasons and primed for double-digit totals in goals. Left wing Mike Embach (Orland Park, Ill.) and Justin Menke (Shamrock, Saskatchewan), a pair of seniors, are the Bulldogs' top returning scorers from a season ago. The 5-10, 188-pound Embach produced a team sixth-most and personal career season-high 20 points on a career-best tying nine goals and a career-best 11 assists in a 34-game span this past season. Menke, a 5-10, 180-pound center, produced 18 points on eight goals with 10 assists in 38 contests to rank tied for seventh among the 2009-10 squad's top points getters.
Joining the pair will be an experienced group of upperclassmen in seniors Mike Fillinger (Grand Ledge), Todd Pococke (Saginaw), Nate Hennig (Macomb) along with juniors Derek Graham (Schoolcraft) and Jordie Johnston (Rosetown, Saskatchewan). Fillinger, a 5-11, 176-pound left wing, netted four points on a pair of goals and assists apiece in 25 outings last season as an injury derailed his amount of ice time and subsequent production offensively. While Fillinger's junior year was disappointing because of his injury, the forward is hopeful of making a greater contribution in this his final season. The 2009-10 campaign was just the opposite for Todd Pococke as the 6-2, 196-pound right wing had a breakout season, establishing career single-season highs in points (12), goals (five), assists (seven), game-winning goals (one), and games played (35). His four multiple-point games a season ago tied for the eighth most among the team leaders. Hennig, a 6-0, 192-pound left wing played in a career-most 21 contests last season and chipped in with a goal and five assists for six points. Both his assists and points numbers were the highest in his Ferris career. Derek Graham was another Bulldog who proved his worth last season as a result of notching 13 points on two goals and 11 assists in 25 encounters. Both the season points and assists totals turned in by the 5-9, 170-pound skater marked personal career highs. Jordie Johnston, a 6-0, 177-pound center compiled four points for the second consecutive season with a goal and three assists in 26 2009-10 outings. Both Graham and Johnston have improved their game significantly over the past year and Daniels believes one if not both are primed for a highly-productive season.
The four-member sophomore class demonstrated its worth a season ago as all were among Ferris State's top 17 points producers. Right wing Matthew Kirzinger (Leroy, Saskatchewan) led the way as the 2009-10 FSU Rookie of the Year Award winner chalked up a squad 10th-most 14 points on nine goals and five assists in 38 games. The 5-9, 175-pound forward, who paced all Bulldog rookies in points last winter, is joined by center Travis Ouellette (Windsor, Ontario). Similiar in stature to Kirzinger, the 5-9, 165-pound Ouellette placed tied for 13th on the team's scoring leaders chart as a result of tallying 11 points on seven lamplighters and four assists in 34 contests. Adding to the mix are right wing Eric Alexander (Kentwood) and left wing Kyle Bonis (Lindsay, Ontario), who compiled seven points (3-4=7) and six points (2-4=6) in 23 games each, respectively. The 6-2, 206-pound Alexander was 16th in team scoring while the 5-11, 175-pound Bonis shared 17th-place honors with Nate Hennig.
For the second year in a row, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Drew Famulak has secured a talented four-member freshmen forward class. Cory Kane, a 6-1, 200-pound center, will be one Bulldog to keep a constant eye on the next four years after he helped lead the Vernon (British Columbia) Vipers to the Royal Bank Cup as the 2009-10 Canadian Junior A Hockey National Champions. He amassed 65 points on 24 goals and 41 assists in 71 outings for the Vipers this past season. Left wing Garrett Thompson (Traverse City) arrives to Ferris State via the Traverse City (Mich.) North Stars in which the 6-2, 191-pounder tallied 50 points on a team-high 24 goals with 26 helpers in 57 games to be nominated for the 2010 North American Hockey League's (NAHL) Junior Player of the Year. His teammate in juniors, 6-1, 214-pound right wing Andy Huff (Howell) turned in a 37-points effort last season by scoring 22 goals and dishing out 15 assists in 55 apppearances as the pair helped the North Stars to a 2010 NAHL North Division Playoff title. At 6-4, 210 pounds, right wing Justin DeMartino (Macomb) is an imposing figure who will provide a physical presence on the ice after skating for the Springfield (Ill.) Jr. Blue this past season.
"I don't know if they're ready to step in and start producing offensively right away nor do we expect them to be the "go-to-guys," explained Daniels. "However, they have a chance to contribute and develop into prime-time players later in their collegiate careers."