Top Dogs

Ferris State hockey moves into first place of CCHA

BIG RAPIDS — Right now, they’re Top Dogs in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association

Ferris State’s 4-3 victory over Michigan State Saturday did more than just complete a weekend sweep at the Ewigleben Ice Arena and extend the Bulldogs’ unbeaten streak to eight games.

UP THE ICE: Ferris State's Jordie Johnston (left) skates around a Michigan State player during Saturday's hockey contest at the Ewigleben Ice Arena. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)

It was only the first time since 1983 that Michigan State came to Ferris State for a two-game series and the first time the Bulldogs have swept MSU in back-to-back games since 1990. Ferris nipped the Spartans 2-1 Friday to open the two-game home series.

Ferris, ranked 10th in the country is 17-8-3 overall and 11-6-3-1 in the CCHA for a first-place total of 37 points, one point ahead of Miami, Western Michigan and Ohio State. Michigan State, 13-11-4 overall and 8-9-3-2 in the league, entered the series ranked 16th nationally.

It was 3-3 going into the final period. But the Bulldogs got on the power play early in the period and took advantage when Travis Ouellette’s wrist shot found the upper corner of the net.

Derek Graham and Chad Billins assisted Ouellette on his ninth goal of the season.

“Billins gave a nice feed to Graham in the slot, he gave it over to me and I was lucky enough to put it in the back of the net,” Ouellette said. “It was nice to feel some goose bumps go back in me again and especially get a big goal like that to take the lead in the third.”

“I try to go out there and give this team its best chance of winning,” said Graham, who also scored his team’s first goal of the night. “I want to keep the streak going.”

The Bulldogs were 2-of-8 on the power play against a Spartan team that hadn’t allowed a goal with a man down in the last four games.

Michigan State killed a Ferris power play midway in the third period but Bulldogs had another man advantage moments later. With 5:30 to play, the Spartans had the power-play chance.

But to the delight of the sellout crowd of 2,493, MSU was not able to convert with the extra man and also failed with the extra attacker with a pulled goalie in the final minute of play.

“It’s big for the school and community to bring in a Big Ten team like that and sweep them,” Graham said. “It feels great. The building was rocking. At the end, it’s the loudest I’ve ever heard. It was awesome.”

The Bulldogs had a 29-22 advantage in shots.

“(Saturday) it seemed like both teams were a little bit looser, certainly we were at times,” Daniels said. “Even though the shot totals weren’t high, the scoring opportunities were. I thought we played very well, about as good as we have all year, for the first 30 minutes of the game. The last 10 minutes of the second, for whatever reason,, we abandoned what we had been doing well. It was a down feeling in the locker room between the second and third periods.”

Michigan State struck in the opening period on Mike Merrifield’s 11th goal of the season. The Spartans cleared the puck in their own zone and set up Merrifield with a pass from Lee Reimer for a 1-0 lead at 4:07.

“We didn’t develop many scoring chances (Friday),” said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos. “(Saturday) we were willing to pay the price more and go to those areas. With a couple of bounces here and there, more pucks would have gone into the net. I thought we did a better job offensively playing to the plan we had created.”

The Bulldogs responded less than two minutes later on Graham’s power play goal after Ferris swarmed the net with shots. Kyle Bionis and Jason Binkley assisted on Graham’s ninth goal of the season.

With 35 seconds left in the frame, Ferris stung MSU with a power-play goal. Corey Kane poked the loose puck past Drew Palmisano for his fourth goal of the season, assisted by Aaron Schmidt and Billins.

The Bulldogs expanded their lead to 3-1 at 2:49 of the second period when Jordie Johnston flipped a loose puck that Palmisano couldn’t clear into the Spartan net. It was Johnston’s 15th goal of the season and set up by Matthew Kirzinger’s 15th assist. The Spartans got back into it later at 8:45 on Brent Darnell’s fourth goal of the season. Greg Wolfe poked in a loose puck off to Nelson’s side.

Then it was tied at 18:28 when Greg Wolfe poked in a loose puck next to Nelson into the net for his ninth goal of the season.

Michigan State was whistled for nine penalties and 18 minutes compared to five penalties and 10 minutes for the Bulldogs.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing to give up a couple of power-play goals. Another disappointing thing were the penalties we took, especially going into that third period,” Anastos said. “You’re using a lot of energy, that I didn’t like. There’s certain penalties you have to take and others you don’t. We took some we didn’t have to take.”

“You can see our kids on the power play have so much more confidence,” Daniels said. “We went through one stretch where we were like one for nine games. They just look more confident and poised out there.”

Palmisano was credited with 25 saves compared to 19 for Nelson.

With Michigan State going to a new Big Ten Conference in 2013-2014, there was some speculation this could be the last regular season game the Spartans would be playing in Big Rapids for awhile, barring any type of non-league schedule arrangement between the two schools.

Daniels pointed out the rare scheduling circumstance that resulted in MSU playing two games at Big Rapids rather than a home-and-home situation. He also indicated that for the 2012-13 season, the two teams will play each other four times, resulting in least two more appearances for MSU at the Ewigleben Arena.

He pointed to three possible factors behind back-to-back sellout crowds.

“One is obviously the season we’re having,” Daniels said. “No. 2, Michigan State is playing well. They were a top 20 team in the country and so now their fans are energized a bit. Third, the entire athletic administration deserves a lot of credit for all their promotion and hard work in trying to grow our fan base.”

Ferris plays Friday and Saturday night at Northern Michigan.

“Everyone wants to finish strong here and we’re not going to take any team lightly,” Ouellette said. “We’ll go in there and hopefully come out with some wins.”

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from this game.

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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