EAST LANSING, Mich. — Entering the weekend, the Ferris State Bulldogs and Michigan State Spartans were tied for second place in the CCHA standings. With Michigan State’s 3-2 win to split the home-and-home series, the teams are right back where they started, the result of little difference between the teams, according to each coach.
“It wasn’t our best game for sure,” said MSU coach Rick Comley, “but probably not theirs. But at times, it was really good.”
“It was a good hockey game,” said FSU’s Bob Daniels. “Disappointed, obviously, with the end result, but I’m not disappointed with the way the kids played and how hard they worked.
“Come out of the weekend saying the two teams are pretty even, I think.”
The teams exchanged a goal apiece in each of the first two periods and Dustin Gazley’s power-play marker in the second half of the third proved to be the difference. Each team scored with the man advantage; FSU had 27 shots to MSU’s 26. Spartans’ netminder Drew Palmisano made 25 saves while his Bulldogs’ counterpart Pat Nagle stopped 23.
“There were times we played very well at their goal line,” said Comley. “We played well enough to score five or six, but their goaltender can prevent that.”
Even though the Bulldogs dominated first-period play with 14 shots to the Spartans’ five, the game was tied 1-1 after one on goals by Michigan State’s Andrew Rowe and Ferris State’s Justin Menke.
At 4:51, Rowe took the puck from a bounce behind the boards and tucked it in, backhanded, between Nagle and the left post, stick-side. With Rowe in the penalty box 12 minutes later, Menke one-timed the rebound of Chad Billins’ shot from the left point to beat Palmisano.
The Spartans took their second one-goal lead at 10:25 in the second on Jay Sprague’s first goal of the season in his first game of the season. The senior had been out of the lineup until late January with injuries.
“I’ve been waiting and almost put him in several times,” said Comley. “He’s a senior and you never know. He played in a national championship.”
Tonight, Sprague made that experience count when he put himself into the perfect position to finish Brett Perlini’s shot with traffic in the Bulldogs’ crease. Six minutes later however, Billins took advantage of a lull in the Spartans’ defenses to exploit Palmisano, five-hole and short-handed. The second period ended in a 2-2 tie.
“Last night we just couldn’t get it going until the third,” said Comley. “We couldn’t even get shots…but tonight was better.”
Better translated into an 11-7 shot differential and Dustin Gazley’s game-winning, power-play goal at 12:31. With all the action in the lower right corner in the FSU zone, Daultan Leveille fished out the puck and centered it for Gazley, who was all alone and wide open for the score.
The three-goal output was a welcome change for the Spartans, who had netted two goals in the three games previous to this contest.
“We needed Rowe and Gazley to get it back,” said Comley. “They were so good for so long and then it went soft.”
With the split, each team has 46 points in league play and will remain tied for second place at least until next weekend, regardless of how other CCHA games end tonight.
“It’s fitting,” said Daniels. “There were times when I thought they carried the play and times when I thought we carried it, but overall, I’d grade that pretty even.”
Next weekend, both teams end their regular seasons by playing the bottom two teams in the league. Ferris State (19-11-4, 13-9-4 CCHA) places a home-and-home series against Western Michigan. Michigan State (18-11-5, 13-8-5 CCHA) ends its season with a home-and-home series against Bowling Green.
Should the teams remain tied for points and have equal wins when all is said and done next week, the Bulldogs would win the tiebreaker; FSU outscored MSU 6-4 in this series.