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It’s looking more and more like the Ferris State Bulldogs will be a contender in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association race this year.
After taking a 6-2 beating at home against Michigan State on Friday, the ninth-ranked Bulldogs showed their resiliency by rebounding for a 5-3 road win over the Spartans on Saturday to earn a split of the weekend series and remain in first place in the CCHA with 20 points entering the holiday break.
It may have only been December, but Ferris State played with a playoff-like sense of desperation in order to further prove their 12-4 start (10-2 in the CCHA) is no fluke.
“After the loss last night, especially as lopsided as it was, that was a concern,” said FSU head coach Bob Daniels.
“If we came out tonight and had another lopsided loss or didn’t win, people would view it — maybe ourselves included — and start doubting, so it was a big win.”
Senior Chris Kunitz scored the game-winning goal with 8:45 left in the third period and freshman Nick Scheible added an insurance goal, his first career tally, with 5:31 left as the Bulldogs broke a 3-3 tie.
Junior Brett Smith and sophomore Mike Kinnie each had a goal and an assist for Ferris State, which outshot Michigan State 40-23 for the game.
Even Michigan State head coach Rick Comley knew what was facing Ferris State if they lost on Saturday.
“I think a great year might have evaporated on them and they responded well,” he said.
It was Michigan State who responded well in the first period as sophomore center Jim Slater took a pass from Mike Lalonde in the Ferris State zone and found himself all alone on the FSU net, beating Bulldog goalie Mike Brown to put MSU on top 1-0 at 2:51 of the first period.
It was flukish play in that a dump-in attempt by freshman David Booth at the red line was deflected into the Ferris State zone by a Bulldog defender to Lalonde, who failed on his attempt to corral the puck but in the process, ended up feeding Slater perfectly in stride towards Brown.
Ferris State answered with 6:53 left in the period when Smith went on a partial breakaway from his own blue line on MSU goalie Matt Migliaccio and beat the Spartan netminder above the glove for his second goal on the year that tied the game 1-1.
Michigan State regained the lead with 3:36 left in the first when freshman Colin Fretter got loose near the FSU crease and fired a backhand shot that was stopped by Brown, but sophomore Brock Radunske promptly deposited the rebound past Brown to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.
Ferris State tied the game 2-2 with 14:39 left in the second when Kinnie took the puck off of a MSU mishandle in its own zone and fired a shot from between the circles that beat Migliaccio under his arm.
It was the Bulldogs’ second unassisted goal of the night.
With 14:20, MSU freshman David Booth received a five-minute major after checking Bulldog defenseman Matt York from behind and into the boards.
Sophomore Nenad Gajic served the penalty for Booth, who got a game-misconduct.
MSU ended up killing off the penalty, but just as Gajic stepped out of the penalty box, Bulldog senior winger Phil Lewandowski fired a shot that went off of Migliaccio’s glove and into the net to give Ferris State a 3-2 lead with 9:18 left in the second.
MSU evened the game with 2:27 left in the second on a power play when Fretter skated behind the FSU goal and fed a perfect pass in front of the goal to sophomore Ash Goldie, who fired the puck past Brown to make it 3-3.
After Kunitz fired a shot from the right face-off circle above Migliaccio’s shoulder to give FSU a 4-3 lead, the Bulldogs put the game away when Smith skated into the MSU and fed a perfect cross-ice pass to freshman Nick Scheible, who beat Fretter’s backcheck and put the puck just underneath the crossbar for his first career goal.
Michigan State (7-7-1, 4-5), which will next play Boston University in the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 28, played most of the game without sophomore Lee Falardeau, who went out in the first period with a knee injury.
Couple that with Booth’s misconduct, the Spartans seemed to wear down in the third.
“We were beat up as the game went along,” Comley said. “I thought our young kids looked tired as the game went on for some reason.”
Just the opposite is ringing true for Ferris State, which is gaining momentum entering a Dec. 29 game with Alabama-Huntsville and will find itself atop the CCHA standings entering the new year.
“It’s a little shocking, but then it’s not,” Smith said. “We have a lot of talent in that dressing room where everybody comes to play everyday.