EAST LANSING, Mich. — With a four-game winless streak at home dating back to November 10, the defending NCAA champions didn’t want to lose this one.
No. 5 Michigan State got back on track on its home ice, beating the Ferris State Bulldogs, 4-1, in a CCHA contest. Sparked by their usual recipe of sharp goaltending, hustling play and opportunistic scoring, the Spartans scored one minute into the game and didn’t let the Bulldogs see much daylight.
With the weekend home-and-home series sweep, Michigan State improved its overall record to 12-3-2, including 8-2-0 in CCHA play. Ferris State dropped to 7-8-1 overall, with a 6-6-0 CCHA record.
“We were scrappy,” said Michigan State coach Rick Comley. “We played well in the first, they played well in the second, and then we played really well in the third. We’ll take it. I’m happy to get two more league wins, because we’re chasing people and we’ve just got to win as many games as we can.”
Michigan State took a 3-1 lead 2:58 into the third period when junior wing Tim Crowder found himself with a rebound just to the left side of the net. He easily poked it in the goal to give the Spartans some breathing room.
Crowder later added an empty-netter with 17 seconds left for the final margin, giving him four goals on the weekend, after scoring only twice in the first 15 games of the season. Strangely enough, all four goals against the Bulldogs came in the third period.
“If you work hard, eventually natural goal scorers find a way to score,” Comley said. “He was so unlucky, and fortunately now, it’s going in for him. He could have had several more tonight too.”
For Ferris State, knowing they played the Spartans tough all weekend wasn’t enough.
“I thought our kids played really well,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “I do think that they’re ahead of us right now. At this point of the year, they’re a better team than we are. That’s not to take anything away from us or from our kids. It’s just to say that if we have high aspirations, we’ve got to improve right now. They’re a cut above us.”
Michigan State scored the first goal of the night just one minute into the game, when senior center Chris Mueller put a rebound past Nagle. The original shot came from freshman wing Dustin Gazely, who put a hard one right in Nagle’s chest.
The Bulldogs tied it up with 5:57 left in the first period when sophomore wing Blair Riley put a puck from nearly behind the net into Lerg’s blocker, where it ricocheted into the net. Lerg was angry with himself after the goal, and slammed his blocker to the ice in frustration.
The Spartans broke the tie late in the period, scoring with 1:21 left to go up 2-1. Tropp found himself in front of the net with the puck and easily scored the eventual game-winner. Junior center Nick Sucharski assisted on the play.
“I thought defensively we were fine,” Daniels said. “They’ve got a lot of firepower up front. I know [Nagle] would like to have the second one back. I thought he played very well. For him to give up that goal and come back strong the rest of the game, it speaks volumes for him.”
The second period was a relatively bland affair, with Michigan State holding a slight edge in shots on goal, 10-8, and the overall edge in face-offs, 25-16. Ferris State killed three power plays, including a partial one at the beginning of the period, while the Spartans locked down successfully on the Bulldogs’ only power play chance in the second period.
“We wanted to go out on the break here with two wins,” Tropp said. “The teams above us in the CCHA haven’t been losing, so the only way we can stay up there is to continue to win. As a team from game one ’till now we’ve improved a lot, and I see us improving a lot more in the second half of the season. We still have a lot to work on.”
Both teams have the next few weeks off before heading to holiday tournament play. Michigan State will take on Michigan Tech on December 28 at the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, while Ferris State will play Brown University on December 29 at the UConn Hockey Classic in Storrs, CT.