The speed and aggressiveness had been there most of the weekend for the Ferris State Bulldogs, but they hadn’t converted as many chances as they needed to — until Saturday.
That game picked up right where Friday night’s contest had left off, with the Colonials dictating the pace and style of contest, burying their chances on the power play, and blocking shots and clogging passing and shooting lanes on the penalty kill.
But midway through the second period and through all of the third, the momentum swung the Bulldogs’ way as goals less than one minute apart in the second stanza by Brendan Connolly and Corey Couturier seemed to put RMU back on its heels for the rest of the game.
Ferris State got on the board first with a goal just 1:50 into the first period when Chad Billins scored through traffic in front of the RMU net with the extra attacker. The Colonials answered a few minutes later on a tic-tac-toe power-play tally assisted by a beautiful pass from Chris Margott, by Chris Kushneriuk at 5:19.
The Colonials kept pressing the attack the rest of the first as another power-play goal by Kyle Burton at 9:42 and a shorthanded laser by Nathan Longpre at 15:15 put RMU ahead 3-1.
The Colonials lit the lamp on yet another power play at 7:16 of the second as Jason Towsley sped down the left-wing boards, setting up Chris Kushneriuk’s second goal of the game.
And then, the Bulldogs had decided they’d had just about enough.
Ferris State roared back to life, taking advantage of Colonial miscues in their own end. Breandan Connolly scored an even-strength goal, picking his spot from between the top of the circles to beat RMU netminder Wes Russell at 13:42 of the second, and just seconds later, Corey Couturier turned a Colonial turnover into a breakaway goal at 14:12 to pull the Bulldogs to within a goal, 4-3.
From that point on, Ferris took control of the game, bottling up RMU in its own end and dominating the territory for the rest of the night en route to outshooting the Colonials 40-21 for the game.
As Robert Morris tried to fend off the game-tying goal for most of the third period, the Colonials couldn’t generate the goal which would have most likely given them the sweep. RMU netminder Russell was composed through the third, and kept turning away scoring chances one after the other, and just as it appeared that the Colonials would escape with a four point weekend, the heartbreaker found its way to the back of the net.
At 19:18 of the third, with an extra attacker on the ice for the Bulldogs, Aaron Lewicki’s shot beat Russell to knot the game at 4, but the most tense moments of the game were yet to come as the last 25 seconds of the third saw a breakaway for each team, Russell making the save on the Ferris State shooter, and Chris Margott missing just wide to the left.
Neither side could dent twine in overtime, which saw the Bulldogs pull a point out of a game that could have gotten away from them and give the young Colonials a valuable lesson in how to keep the foot on the gas with a three-goal lead on home ice.
Coach Derek Schooley seemed satisfied with his team’s performance over the weekend, but acknowledged that they still have a long way to go. “We took three out of four points from a very good CCHA school and we have to be happy with that. We got sloppy for about seven minutes there in the middle of the game, and it really cost us when Ferris turned it on.
“We have to be a little more in control — we had way too many turnovers in the middle of the game, and Ferris took advantage of them.”
All in all, it was a surprisingly good weekend for RMU, and even the most positive preseason outlooks couldn’t have imagined that they would be able to skate and compete with a program with the stature of Ferris State, taking three out of four points and being seconds away from a sweep, with this many newcomers and a goaltending situation that many had thought was shaky at best.