EAST LANSING, Mich. — It was Michigan State’s first trip back to home ice in nearly three weeks, and for a few tense moments, it appeared as though the reunion would not be a joyful one.
After a frustrating 30-plus minutes of scoreless hockey, the typically reliable Spartan penalty kill broke down, allowing visiting Ferris State to take a 1-0 lead.
With defenseman Brad Fast in the box for interference 10:14 into the second, the Spartans looked to their CCHA-best penalty kill unit to keep the Bulldogs scoreless.
Less than a minute into the penalty, goaltender Ryan Miller was able to stop a blistering shot from the point by Rob Collins, and was also somehow able to save a rebound by Josh Bowers. A third opportunity, however, came for defenseman Jim Dube, and he was able to flip the puck past a sprawling Miller into the top of the net, giving his squad the game’s first lead at 10:55 of the second.
A hush fell over the 6,698 Spartan faithful that had packed Munn to the rafters, expecting to see an impressive win by the nation’s No. 1 team. They stared at the Ferris celebration in disbelief, wondering if this Spartan squad was the same hockey team that had taken down Minnesota and Wisconsin just two weeks earlier.
Less than a minute later the Spartans responded, as center Andrew Bogle lit the lamp for the third time this season. The senior fired a shot from the near circle, and as it sailed over the left shoulder of goalie Phil Osaer and into the back of the net, the crowd erupted.
With its first goal in over 120 minutes of hockey MSU tied the game at 1-1 and put the momentum back in its favor.
“I think that was a real ice-breaker for the team,” said MSU defenseman John-Michael Liles. “Getting that goal opened the floodgates for us.”
From that point on, the Spartans took control of the game, outskating and outplaying a tiring Bulldog team. Liles capitalized on the shift of momentum with less than two minutes remaining in the period, netting a power-play goal on a hard slapshot that deflected off an FSU defender, finding its way past Osaer for the sophomore’s fourth tally of the season.
The score remained 2-1 heading into the third period. At the onset of the game’s final stanza, both teams gave little defensively, as neither offense was able to generate many quality scoring chances.
At the 8:25 mark of the third, however, MSU got things going once again with another power-play goal. This time, John Nail was the recipient of a gorgeous Andrew Bogle pass, poking the centering feed past Osaer and increasing the Spartan lead to 3-1. It was Nail’s fifth of the year.
Near the end of regulation, Brian Maloney would heap more coals on the already-raging inferno that was quickly consuming Ferris State. With just over two minutes remaining, Maloney attempted to center the puck to teammate Rustyn Dolyny, but an FSU defender attempting to clear the puck deflected it toward his own goal, and an unsuspecting Osaer could do nothing as the puck slid past him. The goal put the finishing touch on the Spartans’ 12th win of the season, increasing their recent unbeaten streak to 14 games.
Overall, coach Ron Mason was pleased with his team’s performance. “I thought tonight we played a lot better [than last night],” he said. “We finally got our power play clicking. It was nice to be behind our own bench and to see our kids play the game they needed to play.”
“It just felt good to finally put one in for us,” said Liles of the team’s first goal. “The power play started to click. We finally started to convert tonight.”
For the game, the MSU power play converted 2-of-10 chances and held the Ferris power play to the same percentage (1-for-5, .200). MSU peppered Osaer with 23 shots — seven more than in the 0-0 tie the previous night — and held the Bulldogs to 17.
Goaltender Ryan Miller, whose shutout streak of 154:01 came to an end, was happy to finally see his troops provide some offensive support.
“The boys were able to get out of their offensive rut,” he said. “We had a lot better game tonight.”
He also thought that Ferris State’s first goal acted as a rallying point for the Spartans. “I thought that goal provided a spark for us,” he said. “It was great that we battled back and dominated from then on.”
“The breaks just weren’t going our way [early on],” said Bogle. “But I think we’re pretty used to tight games. The whole year we’ve been in close, one-goal games. There was that feeling on the bench that things were going to start going our way.”
The victory was the Spartans’ last game until the holidays. Michigan State will return to the ice December 29 at Joe Louis Arena in the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational, where MSU will square off with nationally-ranked Boston College in the first round. Ferris State, meanwhile, plays CHA representative Findlay next Friday and Saturday.