GREEN BAY, Wis. — After 40 minutes of scoreless hockey in the Midwest Regional final, a game that appeared to be headed for overtime changed dramatically when Ferris State sophomore winger Garrett Thompson broke the scoreless tie just 11 seconds into the third period.
From there, the Bulldogs needed one more goal and a 22-save effort from senior goaltender Taylor Nelson to secure the school’s first trip to the Frozen Four with a 2-1 victory Saturday night over Cornell.
“We achieved a goal here tonight,” said Nelson. “We made the Frozen Four, but we’re not satisfied with just being there. We’re going to look for two more wins.”
With the score tied at one, the Bulldogs killed off a key major penalty. Building off the momentum from the kill, sophomore winger Andy Huff and senior winger Jordie Johnston skated in on a two-on-one. Huff fed Johnston for perhaps the biggest goal in school history at the 6:54 mark of the third period.
“We’ll play any style that we have to to get the win,” said Johnston. “It wasn’t pretty at all times tonight, but when it came right down it, we did what we had to do to win.”
The opening period of play saw the Bulldogs (25-11-5) force a seemingly-tired Big Red squad to take a penalty just 1:08 in. Big Red sophomore winger Dustin Mowrey took the elbowing minor and the Bulldogs fired a pair of pucks Andy Iles’ way. The sophomore netminder was ready both times and finished the night with 19 saves.
Twice more, Cornell (19-9-7) took penalties in the first 20 minutes, but its’ penalty-killing, which had come into the weekend 48th in the nation, continued to keep opponents off the board. With all the power-play time, Nelson, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, didn’t see a single shot until the 12:37 mark of the period.
“I was glad that was the first puck he faced,” said Bulldogs’ coach Bob Daniels. “It had been a while since he’d seen some action and I think it can start playing on your mind a little bit. It takes someone who’s very mature just to stay in there and be composed.”
The second stanza was a reversal of fortunes for the Big Red. Trailing 12-5 in shots after the first period, the Big Red had four power plays of their own in the second period and managed to get seven shots through to Nelson.
With both teams searching for a break of sorts in the third, it was the Bulldogs who benefited when Big Red junior center Erik Axell’s stick broke on the opening faceoff. In the confusion of his returning to the bench for a new stick, Johnston and junior center Matthew Kirzinger outnumbered the Big Red defense. Kirzinger managed to kick the puck out front to Thompson, who buried it for his tenth goal of the season.
Looking to even the score on the ensuing shift, Big Red assistant captain Sean Collins crashed the net, took a pass from assistant captain Nick D’Agostino, and fired a pair of shots that Nelson turned away.
“It’s disappointing when you have so much invested,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “To be so close to it and not achieve that goal of getting to the Frozen Four is a huge disappointment.”
On the following shift, the Big Red scored as sophomore defenseman Kirill Gotovets made a perfect lead pass to Mowrey, who split the Bulldogs’ defense, skated in on Nelson, deked to his backhand and beat him with a quick shot at 1:32.
After the Bulldogs regained the lead, they settled into a defensive posture in which they forced the Big Red to travel 200 feet for every scoring chance. The longer that went on, the more disheartened Cornell appeared to get as the clock wound down.
Schafer rallied his troops with a timeout with just over a minute to go and his players responded by getting some more great scoring chances with Iles pulled.
Nelson’s best save of the night came during a goal mouth scramble when he gloved a shot from a Big Red forward from point-blank range.
Nelson, Johnston, Thompson, and Mowrey made the All Tournament Team. Joining them were Bulldogs’ defenseman Chad Billins and Big Red defenseman Joakim Ryan.
With the victory, the Bulldogs head to Tampa, Fla., to face Union in a Frozen Four semifinal. This is the furthest the Bulldogs have ever been in the NCAA tournament in school history.
Video: Ferris State coach Bob Daniels:
Video: Ferris State’s Chad Billins, Jordie Johnston and Taylor Nelson:
Video: Cornell coach Mike Schafer:
Video: Cornell’s Keir Ross: