BIG RAPIDS - Increasingly, barriers that divide athletes and fans have created a disconnect that has strained the relationship of the two groups around a common interest: the sporting events they all love.
While arenas and stadiums oftentimes go to great lengths to draw a separation between fans and athletes, Ferris State University's Ewigleben Ice Arena is proud to be an exception to the rule. At Ferris, the interaction between those who fill the "Dawg Pound" and the Bulldog hockey student-athletes is both encouraged and celebrated. In fact, the relationship between the students and the hockey student-athletes is nothing less than a mutual love affair.
In the student section, the Ferris pep band (which from time to time includes Ferris President David Eisler and his trusty clarinet) begins the steady drum beat as students gather together to form a human tunnel in the pathway from the Ferris locker room to the playing surface of Ewigleben Ice Arena, one of the toughest barns for opponents in all of college hockey. Those fanatics, the ones who rush in like crazy to get their spots the minute the ice arena opens for games, are about as fired up as the players.
Ewigleben Ice Arena is not merely tough because it's small and it feels like the fans are right on top of you with their aggressive and relentless chants and their banging of the boards. When the building is packed to its limit (2,493), it is akin to (for opponents) playing major college hockey in an area that feels like an average-sized basement jammed with 2,400 people who are far from your best friends and don't exactly have a lot of love for you.
"The Dawg Pound is a great lift for us every time we hit the ice," said former three-time Ferris hockey captain Adam Welch, who recently concluded his Bulldog playing career. "It is the best student section in all of college hockey."
The "Dawg Pound" has a lot of love for the Bulldog players and coaches. In almost ritual fashion, every time the players and coaches take the ice they are greeted with a human tunnel of fans filled with unconditional love for Ferris hockey.
"The atmosphere in which the student section has developed over time gives our players a distinct advantage, so much as it seems like we have a seventh man on the ice," said Drew Famulak, Ferris associate head coach. "We, as a coaching staff, believe it has become the toughest facility for opposing teams to play in."
In 1999, the University added a state-of-the-art locker room to the west side of Ewigleben Ice Arena. As a result of the new location of the locker room, the Bulldogs began a different route to the ice surface - a route that takes the players and coaches right past the area that is home to the student section and the band.
"I think it is a unique quirk about our rink that at the beginning and end of each period our players walk through our students," said Daniels, who confessed he could not think of any other Division I college hockey arena with a setup that brings the players and fans together. "It's truly one of the different experiences for our great fans and our players that is not something you see in other hockey arenas where the players are a little more removed from the fans.
"It's something special that we have right here at Ferris."
NOTE: This blog, written by Sandy Gholston, originally was published on Crimson and Gold Report and the Ferris State Athletics Blog.