When Ferris State junior forward Zac Pearson beat Michigan goalie Billy Sauer 42 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 win on Saturday night in Ann Arbor, Mich., he not only scored the game-winning goal — he also saved his team a 3,500 mile road trip.
Pearson’s goal launched the Bulldogs into sole position of seventh place in the CCHA. The goal also had far reaching implications on the rest of the conference. Fifth through eighth place receive opening-round home ice, while the first four seeds gain a bye in the 12-team league.
Alaska-Fairbanks head coach Tavis MacMillan followed the Ferris State game via computer from the Joyce Center press box after his team’s 2-1 victory over the Irish on Saturday night with vested interest. A Michigan-Ferris State tie would have allowed MacMillan’s Nanooks to remain tied with the Irish and the Bulldogs at the season’s conclusion. Tiebreakers would have given the Irish seventh place and the Nanooks eighth — and sent the Bulldogs on a plane to the Land of the Midnight Sun for the first round.
Instead, Alaska-Fairbanks will stay in South Bend for another week in preparation for this weekend’s match up between the No. 8 Irish and the No. 9 Nanooks.
Such was the way of the parity-rife CCHA in its last regular-season weekend. When the ice spray settled, only four teams remained unchanged in league standings — three of which were the top seeds.
Those three teams are No. 1 Miami, No. 2 Michigan State and No. 3 Michigan.
“Michigan State is the hottest team in the league right now,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “Just from the teams we played in the second half, I think Michigan State is playing the best hockey at the right time of the year.”
Northern Michigan jumped into the last bye slot at No. 4 with a weekend sweep of Ohio State, while Nebraska-Omaha lost its bye and slid into fifth after a loss and tie to lowly Western Michigan.
Lake Superior State maintained the No. 6 spot despite being swept by Michigan State. Ferris State, Notre Dame and Alaska-Fairbanks emerged from the tiebreaker scuffle to finish at No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9, respectively.