BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — It’s not too often that anyone by the last name of Miller wrongs Michigan State.
But Tuesday night, Adam Miller’s goal at 18:33 of the third period lifted Ferris State over the sixth-ranked Spartans by a 2-1 score.
“Zac Pearson got the puck on the wing and came down and beat his guy down the wall. He saw me back door and all I had to do was put the puck in the empty net,” said Miller. “It was an amazing feeling. This is such a huge win for us at the end of the season. We split with Michigan State after sweeping Ohio State, so we have a great feeling headed into the playoffs.”
Spartan goaltender Jeff Lerg should learn to keep his friends closer than his enemies, as he was victimized once again by a hometown hockey buddy. Miller, also a native of Livonia, Mich., has great memories of growing up with both Bryan and Jeff Lerg, but knows the netminder he victimized a bit better.
“I have a bunch of buddies on State. Jeff Lerg and I play roller hockey in the summer, so it’s always nice to score on your friends,” said Miller.
Lately, it takes a gorgeous play like that of Pearson to Miller to beat Lerg, who was fresh off of a 90-save weekend and CCHA Goaltender of the Week honors.
“The two goals that we scored on Lerg were both backdoor goals,” said FSU coach Bob Daniels. “You can’t beat the kid on a straight shot; he’s just that good of a goalie. Even the goal we scored on Friday was a rebound on a shorthanded breakaway.”
Ferris’ win snaps a nation-best nine-game unbeaten streak for the Spartans, who just finished their third three-games-in-five-days stretch of the season. The weeknight game is a rarity for most teams, but MSU has had the “blessing” of a Tuesday tilt three times this season, and it’s no coincidence that it was winless in all three.
A similar lackluster effort in November earned the Spartans a 2-2 draw with Ferris, and Tuesday the schedule finally bit them.
“It was a struggle. We looked tired, mentally tired, and had nothing almost all night long. Just no energy,” said MSU coach Rick Comley.
While physical energy was a challenge for State, the Bulldogs were able to rebound from the emotional blow of dropping an overtime contest to the Spartans in a very similar tight-checking affair just four nights earlier.
“This was such a great win for us, especially after the heartbreaker at Munn on Friday night,” said Daniels. “Our guys have been taking a lot of knocks, so it’s really nice to get a win like this, especially this time of the season with the playoff format that we have in the CCHA.”
Although FSU and MSU are at polar opposites in the standings, league and nationally, there’s something about the Bulldogs’ style of play that is endlessly frustrating for the Spartans. Even with regulars Chris Zarb and Mark Bomersback out of the lineup, Ferris played superb team defense, limiting Michigan State to just 24 shots, and fewer than five grade-A scoring chances.
“One of MSU’s strengths is its ability to generate offense through sustained pressure in the offensive zone. We pack it in around our goal pretty tight, so we can slow MSU down quite a bit five-on-five because we do a good job of neutralizing their strength down around the goal,” said Daniels.
“This loss hurts a lot,” Comley said. “We got outshot again. We needed someone to step up and we didn’t get it. I’ll bet we didn’t get a half-dozen scoring chances. There’s not much you can say.”
Comley’s right, as the loss instantaneously dropped the Spartans from 10th to a tie for 12th place in the PairWise Rankings. And don’t think that Comley and the Spartans don’t pay attention to that sort of thing.
“You have to in this day and age,” said Comley. “Rather than preach about the value of every game, the kids can just turn on the computer and see just how much every game left on the schedule means at this point.”
The teams played to a 1-1 tie after 20 minutes of play. Just 7:12 into the first period, Ferris State took an early lead on Aaron Lewicki’s sixth goal of the season. Lewicki was the trailer on a slow-developing three-on-one rush for the Bulldogs, and Blair Riley slipped a pass just out of the reach of a backchecking Spartan to Lewicki, who fired the puck into the bottom left corner.
The Bulldogs also orchestrated the second goal of the night. Unfortunately for FSU, it led to a tie game. Just after killing a penalty to Joe Van Culin, FSU had seven players on the ice, earning a bench minor for too many men.
Just 33 seconds later, on their second consecutive man-advantage, The Spartans’ Tim Crowder banged home his 11th of the season and fourth on the man advantage. Fellow sophomore Justin Abdelkader feathered a pass from the right circle to Crowder in the slot for a one-timer into the back of the net.
FSU should be a confident team when it hosts Bowling Green for a pair this weekend, while MSU will return to action in a home-and-home with upstart Western Michigan.