EAST LANSING, Mich. — Niagara junior goalie and Fenton, Mich. native Rob Bonk entered Friday’s game at No. 13 Michigan State thinking nothing could top the feeling of playing in front of his friends and family for the first time in his collegiate career.
He was wrong.
Not only did Bonk get to play in familiar territory, he stopped 25 of 26 shots and left Munn Ice Arena a winner after Niagara pulled off a 2-1 upset of Michigan State.
Junior forward Joe Tallari had a goal and an assist and sophomore Bernie Ehgoetz scored the game-winning goal with 5:29 left in the third period to complement Bonk’s stellar goaltending.
“It’s a date I circled on the calendar in the summer,” Bonk said. “This is the closest I’ve ever played to home. I think it’s probably the greatest win of my class’ era.”
After falling two goals short twice earlier this season against North Dakota and losing 3-0 to Michigan, Niagara (4-7) finally pulled off an upset against a traditional power.
“I’m excited because we worked so hard and came so close to beating top-notch teams, and tonight we did it,” Tallari said.
Niagara winning seemed as unlikely as snow in Hawaii in the early stages of the first period, as MSU freshman forward David Booth picked up a rebound off of a shot from the point by senior defenseman John-Michael Liles and easily tapped the puck into an open net to give MSU a 1-0 lead 49 seconds into the game.
MSU carried the play for much of the first 30 minutes of the game, but having a two-week layoff seemed to affect the Spartans as they missed several good scoring chances and seemed to give Niagara more and more confidence with every shot that went wide or high.
Sure enough, Niagara tied the game 1-1 on a power-play with 3:43 left in the second period when Tallari fired a wrist shot from inside the left faceoff circle that beat MSU goalie Matt Migliaccio. It was Tallari’s 12th goal of the year, leading the nation. Niagara outshot Michigan State 12-5 in the second period.
The game stayed tied 1-1 until MSU defenseman Duncan Keith misplayed the puck at his own blue line, allowing Ehgoetz and Tallari a virtual two-on-zero on Migliaccio, with Ehgoetz cashing in on a pass from Tallari to give Niagara a 2-1 lead at 14:31 of the third.
Niagara head coach David Burkholder, who earlier on Friday spoke at a luncheon thanking the MSU coaching staff for the chance to play the Spartans, echoed the fact that his team started to believe in itself more and more as the game went on.
“The first period we were kind of sitting back and reacting,” he said. “In the second period, we started where we won one shift and then all of a sudden we won a second shift. Next thing you know, we put together a 10-minute span where we carried the play and that pushed us.”
Michigan State (4-3), which entered the game with nation’s seventh-best power play at 29 percent, didn’t help its cause by going 0-for-6 with the man-advantage.
“[We] worked hard, we just didn’t score,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “Quality playing in the end was what it was. They outworked us. I think it got worse as the game went along.”