The Sunshine State Meets the Ice

Brian Ferlin

image courtesy of NBC Universal/NBC Sports

The Sunshine State Meets the Ice
| published February 26, 2015 |

By Earl Perkins
Thursday Review features editor

Canada, Russia, Europe: these are the kind of places where hockey players come from—not the Sunshine State.

Tonight in homes across the world, men have envy in their hearts as Brian Ferlin etches his name into the National Hockey League Guide and Record Book. The 22-year-old received his first call-up from the Boston Bruins on Thursday, making him the first native son from balmy Jacksonville, Florida, drafted into the NHL.

Although Florida is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, it's known primarily for Disney World, beaches, oranges and hurricanes, and those frequent National Champion college football teams. Hopefully, that's beginning to change with Ferlin's call-up, along with a new surge of interest generated by a thriving youth hockey program and numerous transplants—familiar with the ice—from states north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Ferlin grew up in Jacksonville, playing for the Ice Dogs Midget program before joining the United States Hockey League's Indiana Ice in 2009. The USHL is USA's top junior league program, a proving ground and testing venue for up-and-coming hockey stars.

He spent two years in Indiana before moving on to Cornell University, where he was the Bruins' fourth-round draft choice in 2011. Ferlin finished his Big Red stint in 2014, and then joined Providence of the American Hockey League. In 46 games there, the forward racked up nine goals, 16 points and 36 penalty minutes before being called up.

One of the NHL's Original Six and the oldest US team, the Bruins are a proud franchise with a storied tradition, hanging six Stanley Cup banners from the Boston Garden rafters. Boston defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 to win the 2011 Stanley Cup, and is desperately seeking a return engagement.

The Bruins were mired in a five-game losing streak entering Friday's match, and they had hoped Ferlin would bring extra size, strength and a spark to the right wing.

"I liked him in training camp,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told Comcast Sportsnet on Thursday. “He's a big body, and strong along the walls.”

Through 57 games the fourth line has been one of Boston’s primary weaknesses all season. Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Craig Cunningham struggled to control puck possession with a Corsi-for percentage below 50. The trio combined for eight goals, two of which were scored since Dec. 27.

Julien shook up his fourth line for Friday night’s road game against the St. Louis Blues. Ferlin started his first game, and Jordan Caron, entering the lineup for the first time since Jan. 20, replaced Daniel Paille and Craig Cunningham. Rookie backup Malcolm Subban also debuted in the crease, spelling veteran Tuukka Rask.

Starting the promising 21-year-old against St. Louis, one of the league's strongest teams, may have contributed to Boston's loss. Rask played in 24 of Boston's last 25 games, so Julien started Subban and rested Rask.

Subban gave up three goals on three consecutive shots on goal in the opening 5 minutes and 9 seconds of the second period, and an irritated Rask was forced to finish the game. The Bruins gave up four second-period goals en route to a 5-1 loss, dropping their sixth consecutive game and falling to 28-21-9 overall.

Boston used more than 10 different fourth-line combinations this season, but felt compelled to make changes in a desperate attempt to stop its losing streak.

Though Florida has produced hundreds of powerhouse football stars, many of whom have risen out of the fertile sports environments of middle schools and high schools all across the state, the state that produced the likes of Tim Tebow and Charlie Ward has rarely produced a star of the ice. Most U.S. players of caliber come from places where the weather permits long seasons of frozen rivers, lakes and ponds—Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Massachusetts.

According to the website, and using 2011 figures, the top five states for active NHL players (by birth state) are Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts. Florida ranked near the bottom, having produced (before Ferlin) only one NHL player in more than 10 years.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Miracle 1980: Cold War on Ice; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; February 22, 2015.

Inflation, Deflation & the NFL; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; January 23, 2015.