By Kyle O’Neill
Daily Sports Editor
BOWLING GREEN – Ferris State is now 1-0 as CCHA champions.
A night after clinching the regular season title – thanks to a 4-2 Friday win over Bowling Green – the Bulldogs showed no signs of slowing down with a 4-3 win over the Falcons.
Unfortunately for Ferris State and Bowling Green, the referees slowed down all momentum either team had with the 28 penalties called during the game.
“It was kind of an ugly game, there wasn’t a whole lot of flow to it,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “It was a disappointing game all the way around I guess. I was concerned it would be (a let down), but it wasn’t. Both teams came out and battled pretty hard. I was disappointed with all the penalties with both teams tonight.”
With just three of the seven goals coming on the powerplay, it was the nine penalties killed apiece that was most impressive about the game.
“We had some good kills … I thought we did an excellent job,” Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch said. “What I really liked was the 4-on-3 (kill) in the second period, but the 5-on-3 in the third period – that’s the momentum type of kill we needed and what a lift it gave us.”
The first situation Paluch described was at the 18:20 mark of the second period with the score tied at two. Bowling Green’s Don Morrison was called for goaltender interference, and Ferris State defenseman Phil Meyer was called for hitting after the whistle. One minute and five seconds later, Bowling Green defenseman Kevin Bieksa was called for roughing. Despite the Falcons being down a man in the third period, they had the best chance when defenseman Brian Escobedo had a breakaway on Ferris State goalie Matt Swanson – regular starter Mike Brown was rested for the playoffs. Escobedo was stopped by the leg pads of Swanson, who recorded 33 saves on the night.
But where Bowling Green didn’t capitalize, the Bulldogs did. At 8:40 in the third period, Ferris State forward Derek Nesbitt recorded a shorthanded tally when he skated in from the left side and wristed the puck over the glove of Bowling Green senior Tyler Masters.
Less than two minutes later, the Falcons’ problems multiplied when Steve Brudzewski jacked the Bulldogs’ Matt York in the face. While Brudzewski used his glove to inflict the punishment, the referee saw the injured York on the ice and called a five-minute high sticking major. One minute after that, Bowling Green’s Jon Sitko was called for slashing. But Bowling Green seemed to turn it on, instead of backpedalling.
“I thought it was very aggressive throughout the whole zone,” Paluch said. “We extended 200 feet pretty well, and probably the most important thing tonight: We were able to stay up and not let (Chris) Kunitz, Nesbitt and (Jeff) Legue gain a line on us on the powerplay.”
The Bulldogs did add one even-strengthed goal with just 2:10 left. Kunitz drew two defenders on a breakaway and then found a wide open Nesbitt for a goal. After that, all hell broke loose, as Kunitz was called for slashing at the same time as the goal and had sent to the lockerroom with a 10-minute misconduct. It was an interesting call that Kunitz, a Hobey Baker candidate, played in an essentially meaningless game while Brown sat out to rest.
“(Kunitz) wants to play, and he wouldn’t have been happy about that at all,” Daniels said. “He’s a player who wants to play, and I would have lost more than I would have gained by sitting him.”
At the 18:40 mark, that Bowling Green powerplay was negated when alternate captain Tyler Knight was called for tripping. But the Falcons regained the man advantage when York was called for slashing. With a pulled goalie and a two-man advantage, Bieksa scored from the point for Bowling Green with just 16 seconds remaining. Though the Falcons had the puck in the Bulldogs zone for the remainder of the game, they could not manage a shot for the equalizer.
Though the win was a positive, it was a reminder to Daniels that March hockey brings out the best in everyone.
“I gotta tell you, I wouldn’t want to face Bowling Green, and I don’t really want to face Lake State (the Bulldogs’ opponent next week) and I’d just assume get a bye right to the Joe – but that’s not going to happen,” Daniels said. “You always say, ‘Well, jeez, we’d like to play them or we’d like to play them.’ The truth is I’d rather have the free pass.”
Daniels used the example of how Hockey East’s third-place team, Maine, had a good season, but still fell victim to being swept by sixth-place Massachusetts.
“That could very well happen to us, so it’s hard to enjoy (the CCHA title) until after the season,” Daniels said.