No. 9 Ferris State recorded its fifth-straight victory by defeating Western Michigan 5-3 to complete a sweep of the weekend series.
Ferris sophomore forward Derek Nesbitt helped take advantage of WMU (13-16-1, 11-11-0 CCHA) defensive breakdowns by tallying two goals, including the game-winner, to extend his goal-scoring streak to three games. Nesbitt scored his 10th goal of the season at 12:44 of the second period by chipping a shot from low in the goalmouth over Mantua’s left shoulder to put Ferris up 4-1. The Egmondville, Ont., native put the Bulldogs (23-8-1, 18-5-1 CCHA) up four goals with his 11th goal of the season at 6:47 of the third. Nesbitt rolled a shot from below the circle off Mantua’s back to give Ferris an insurmountable 5-1 lead.
“When they got the momentum,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane, “We didn’t have an answer for it until late in the third period. We didn’t answer soon enough to give ourselves a better chance to rally and come from behind.
“Here, tonight, we got the first goal and got the momentum, but they were able to respond with the next five. We kept battling back; we had a crossbar and a pipe that wouldn’t bounce in, and we finally got a couple there on the power play, but at that point, unfortunately, it’s too much, too late, and we ran out of time.”
Sophomore goaltender Mike Brown was solid for the second consecutive game, holding the Broncos to one goal in the game’s first 50:00 and making 29 saves to raise his record to 23-8-1.
WMU sophomore goaltender Mike Mantua made 21 saves in defeat.
The loss is the fourth consecutive defeat for the Broncos and their third four-game losing streak of the season. Just 10 days ago, the Broncos stood a point out of fourth place, but four straight losses to the conference’s top two teams have suddenly dropped WMU to seventh place, one point shy of the last home playoff spot.
“I think we’re a little rattled with our confidence,” said Culhane “because the puck’s not going in for us. I think, at times, what we’re doing is pressing; we’re pressing to make the perfect pass or the perfect play, almost similar to how we were pressing the Michigan weekend down there, we kind of reverted back to that.”
Despite holding Hobey Baker-candidate Chris Kunitz to a lone assist on the weekend, the depth of the Bulldogs’ bench made up for the missing production. All four forward lines and 10 different skaters recorded points on the night for Ferris, including two assists from fourth-line sophomore Carter Thomson, and sophomore defenseman Matt York’s first goal since November 9.
Daniels gave credit to his Kunitz and his bench for his team’s strong play.
“Chris didn’t score a goal and only had one assist on the weekend, and if you had told me coming in that Chris would only have one assist on the weekend, I’d say it’s going to be a long weekend for us. But the reality is, over the season, we’ve developed more and more depth with our scoring, and I think it is a tribute to Chris, though, because he scores so much. He’s a such a good offensive player that he really does relieve pressure from his teammates.”
After losing their last three contests by one-goal each, the Broncos generated some much-needed momentum by getting on the scoreboard first. Freshman forward Brent Walton scored his 11th goal of the season at 5:37 of the first period by jumping on a rebound off a blast from junior defenseman Brian Pasko and depositing the puck behind Brown with a wrister to put the Broncos up 1-0.
But the Bulldog onslaught commenced from there. Greg Rallo evened the score at 11:34 of the first period, the first of five unanswered Ferris goals, by beating Mantua inside the near post from the goal line with the freshman forward’s 11th goal of the season to put the Bulldogs even the score at 1-1.
Junior forward Trevor Large put a loose rebound between the circles top shelf over Mantua at 2:18 of the second period and York tallied at 4:35 of the second period after placing a rebound between Mantua’s pads to give Ferris a 3-1 lead.
“I thought we were strong on transition, good on our line rushes, and we generated a lot of opportunities,” said Ferris head coach Bob Daniels. “I think that last night’s game should have, realistically, a 5-3 game, but the goalies played very well, and tonight, both teams had a lot of good scoring chances and kind of let the goalies out to dry.
“I think we were stronger today than we were yesterday. I was happy with our speed against a very good Western Michigan team and I think we had better legs today than we did last night.”
Nesbitt’s two tallies put the Bulldogs up for good at 5-1. Nesbitt took advantage of a defensive breakdown at the Bronco blue line and waited for Mantua to go for the poke check before putting the puck past the fallen goaltender at 12:44 of the second period. Nesbitt contributed his second goal of the night with the game-winner at 6:47 of the third period.
“Things aren’t going our way,” said Culhane, “where we hit the crossbar or the pipe, but still, the goals they score are breakdowns on what we’re doing. A breakdown, obviously, on down-low coverage on the second goal, and a breakdown on the back check on both the third and fourth goals.
“We have to take responsibility for those mistakes as a team; they’re costly errors that a team that is first place in the league that has the skill and the scoring abilities of Ferris State is going (to take advantage of).”
The Broncos kept the game close at the end by ending their 0-for-29 drought with the man-advantage with a pair of power play goals in the third period. Junior forward Jeff Campbell finally reached the 50-career goal milestone by one-timing a shot from the left face-off circle at 10:20 of the third period for his 11th goal of the season. Senior forward Shawn Rose put a rebound off the chest of Brown into the net at 15:33 to bring the game to it’s final score of 5-3.
The injury bug continues to hurt the Broncos. After losing senior defenseman Dave Cousineau (game disqualification) and sophomore defenseman Mat Ponto (shoulder) in Friday’s game, junior captain and leading scorer Dana Lattery was shaken up on Campbell’s tally. WMU was also without last season’s CCHA Rookie of the Year, sophomore forward Pat Dwyer, for this weekend’s series due to an injury last weekend at Ohio State.
Culhane was asked what separates his team from the top teams in the CCHA.
“Three of those (losses) are just one-goal games. I think, right now, we can compete a little bit harder. I have been telling the team there is three things we can do better: we can compete a little bit harder, I think we can execute better on what we’re trying to accomplish within our systems and our special teams, and (we can improve on) our discipline. If we focus on these three things, we’ll be fine. We’re not that far away (with) three tough road losses by a goal, and no question, we’d like a better outcome at home.”
The Broncos host a home-and-home series with Bowling Green next weekend while Ferris State hosts a two-game set with Nebraska-Omaha in Big Rapids.