Thursday, February 23, 2012

North Stars alums spark No. 1 Ferris State

A quintet of former Traverse City North Stars have helped Ferris State University perch itself atop the college hockey world.

With a weekend sweep of CCHA rival Bowling Green, Ferris has reeled off 14 straight without a loss (11-0-3), reached the 20-win plateau faster than any school in the land, laid claim to at least a share of the CCHA regular season title and assumed the No. 1 spot in each of the three major NCAA hockey polls.

Helping the Bulldogs reach such rarified air are former North Stars forwards Kyle Bonis, Andy Huff and Garrett Thompson, defenseman Travis White and goalie C.J. Motte.

“We started off not exactly knowing what was in store for us,” said Thompson, whose family moved to Traverse City back in 2007 during his three-year stint with the North Stars. “To be honest, they gauged us on the low end of the totem pole – I believe we were projected ninth in the CCHA (preseason poll) and something like 49th in the country. Obviously, that's not something you want to see going into a season, but I think if anything we’ve used that as motivation.”

Thompson assisted on the Bulldogs’ opening goal and scored the game-winner himself in a 5-1 rout of Bowling Green in Friday’s series opener, while Bonis and Huff (game-winner) assisted on two of FSU’s goals in the 4-1 clincher on Saturday.

Bonis, who is tied for fourth in the CCHA with 15 goals, was named the conference’s Player of the Week after a two-goal, two-assist weekend against the Fighting Irish on Feb. 10-11. Bulldogs head coach Bob Daniels didn’t bat an eye when the junior forward began lighting arena lamps with great frequency this season.

“From the minute Kyle got here, we could see in practice that he was a goal-scorer,” Daniels explained. “The biggest surprise isn’t that he’s scoring goals, it’s that it’s taken this long to see the goal production during games that we see every day in practice. It’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked in the weight room and on the ice – he’s a great kid and it’s good to see him having the kind of success he’s having.”

Thompson, a sophomore winger, has eight goals and nine assists in 32 contests, while Huff has appeared in 21games, with three goals and a quartet of assists to his credit. Freshman defenseman and two-year Stars captain Travis White has seen action in nine consecutive conference games; Motte is 5-4-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average and a sterling .926 save percentage.

Daniels says that each of the Traverse City products have played a role in helping FSU to the top spot in the polls for the first time in school history, and a share of the first CCHA crown since 2002-03.

“The Traverse City North Stars program, and Anthony Palumbo in particular, have done an outstanding job preparing these guys, and we’ve been the beneficiaries of a lot of their hard work,” said Daniels, who is in his 20th season behind the Ferris bench. “All of them have contributed on the ice, but even more importantly than that, they’ve been great additions to the Ferris State campus and the Big Rapids community as well. There’s a certain set of character traits that each of these guys brings to the team, and it’s been a very positive impact on and off the ice.”

The TC-to-Big Rapids pipeline is still flowing: Current North Stars Seth Adams, Zach Dorer and Kyle Schempp are each committed to Ferris.

Bonis spent less than two full seasons with the North Stars, but amassed 55 goals and 43 assists in just 98 regular-season games in a TC sweater – good enough for second on the club’s all-time scoring list. His 30-goal campaign in 2008-09 is still the single-best total in Stars history.

Thompson spent three years with Traverse City, collecting 40 goals and assists on 40 others over 121 outings, ranking him sixth in Stars all-time scoring. He reached a highwater mark of 24 goals and 26 assists in 57 games during the 2009-10 season.

“These guys are great examples of how hard work, talent, and drive can get you to the next level – and helps you excel at the next level,” said Palumbo. “It’s been great to watch them have the success they’ve achieved so far this year. Hopefully, there’s even more to come.”

Ferris State (22-8-4) can put the finishing touches on their regular season league championship this weekend in a home-and-home series with Western Michigan. Friday’s game in Kalamazoo will be televised on Fox Sports Detroit, with Saturday’s return engagement moving to Big Rapids. The Bulldogs have cinched a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs, with an NCAA tourney berth well within reach.

For now, Thompson says he’s taking it all in – but taking nothing for granted.

“It’s pretty crazy looking at the rankings and seeing your school being No. 1 and knowing your a part of something big,” he explained. “But we really haven't done anything yet. The plan is to take it one game at a time and just worry about what’s next rather than getting carried away with it. We know what has gotten us here, and that's what we know it takes to keep things rolling along.”

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