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Patience pays off for Ferris State, Minnesota-Duluth hockey programs

March 26, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

ASHWAUBENON - Patience has paid off for a pair of NCAA Division II schools with Division I hockey programs the past two seasons.

Last season, Scott Sandelin guided the University of Minnesota-Duluth to its first NCAA championship in his 11th season as head coach of the Bulldogs.

This year, Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels has reached the Frozen Four in his 20th season on the Bulldogs bench after only appearing in one NCAA tournament prior to this year.

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For the Bulldogs, their 2003 run to the NCAA regional finals was comparable to Northern Michigan University's 1991 NCAA championship run.

That's how little success Daniels has experienced since taking over the program in 1992, that NMU's 1991 is FSU's 2003.

Daniels will enter his April 5 national semifinal game against Union (N.Y.) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. with a losing career record of 333-361-79 (.482), though in the last 10 years Daniels is 181-164-47 (.521) with two CCHA regular season titles now after this season.

He's only appeared in one CCHA playoff title game while reaching the CCHA's final four twice.

Daniels experienced eight losing seasons in his first decade as FSU head coach before winning his first CCHA regular season title in 2003.

Since then, the FSU has continued to be an up and down team with four more losing seasons.

That's 12 sub-.500 campaigns for Ferris in the last 20 years with the last three seasons being the only time in Daniels' tenure that the program has put together consecutive winning seasons.

"Some people would say this is a shot in the dark, but we've been pretty good for awhile now," Daniels said. "This is validation is you will."

UMD's Sandelin has put together a similar career to Daniels, though his only spans 12 seasons.

Prior to this year, Sandelin had a sub-.500 record. It took a 25-10-6 campaign in 2011-12 - capped Sunday by a 4-0 loss to Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional final - for the Bulldogs national championship bench boss to climb into the black at 217-210-58 (.507).

Sandelin has had six losing seasons since becoming head coach at UMD in 2000, including five years of 13 or less wins and four seasons of 20 or more losses.

Sandelin has won no WCHA regular season titles, he does have one playoff title, three NCAA tournament appearances, two Frozen Four appearances and last season's national championship.

Prior to completing four-straight winning seasons on Sunday, Sandelin's teams have been the ultimate roller coaster.

Both administrations could have caved to pressure from fans and alumni and fired both coaches early in their careers.

Sandelin had six losing seasons in his first eight years, giving the UMD administration enough ammunition to make a change in 2008, but it didn't.

Ferris could have blown up the program and started over in 1999 after six losing seasons in seven years, or in 2002 after eight losing seasons in 10 years.

FSU stayed patient, however.

"It means a great deal to me the amount of loyalty the administration has shown," Daniels said. "I think this proves the balance that our administration has between athletics and the student-athletes as a whole."

I'm sure fan bases in both Duluth and Big Rapids were irate to see Daniels and Sandelin back again and again after losing seasons. The thing with fans, however, is they often fail to look longterm. It's all about instant results and what someone has done for them lately.

Athletic directors, boards of trustees and university presidents can't be fans. They must think with a clear mind, do their homework and resist the urge to make knee-jerk reactions based on the reaction by uninformed masses.

If they act like professionals, and not just fans, then everyone associated will reap the benefits UMD did last year, and Ferris State could this year.

"There have been a lot of changes, but I think it's just where college athletics is going," Daniels said. "It's not just hockey, but with a lot of different sports. I see more movement among coaches and maybe a little more movement by administrations in changing coaches.

"I do think there are times when some administrations are quick to make a change when patience would pay off more in the long run."

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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