Northern Michigan in the Finals At Last
Ferris State Needs Consolation Win for NCAA Bid
by Michael Florek/CHN Reporter
DETROIT Four goals, 60 minutes and 38 shots couldn’t get the monkey off Northern Michigan’s back Friday at Joe Louis Arena. But the 39th, coming in overtime, finally won the game for the Wildcats and sent them into unprecedented territory.
Junior Gregor Hanson took those matters into his own hands. Just 1:07 into the first overtime, Hanson picked up the puck in the neutral zone and as the Bulldog defenseman backed off, Hanson gained the zone and sent a shot that deflected off of Ferris State junior goalie Pat Nagle and into the net.
NMU coach Walt Kyle told his team heading into overtime that one shot could win the game, and, literally, it was one shot that won the game.
“I caught them a little flat-footed there,” Hanson said. “They didn’t expect me to go over to the middle, they thought I was going to drive behind the net. I just tried to shoot it on the blocker side, fortunately, it went in.”
Northern Michigan’s current senior class has made the CCHA semifinals three times, only to lose in variety of ways. Last year, it was a loss to Notre Dame in the final minutes. After Ferris State tied it up with six minutes left, and then rang a shot off the post seconds later, it was looking to be another heartbreak ending for the Wildcats. After all, they had given up a two-goal lead late in the third.
But Hanson’s goal sent the Wildcats into the finals and relieved some of the pressure off past seasons.
“We’ve come down here and been just excited to get here the last few years, but this year we wanted to focus on getting to the championship game and trying to win it,” senior Ray Kaunisto, who had two goals and an assist in Northern’s win, said. “We didn’t want to play in the consolation game.”
The win was even more of a relief for Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle. Kyle has made it to Joe Louis seven of his eight years behind the bench of the Wildcats, and had never made it to the Championship game.
He joked the game would have been named after him if he had another appearance.
“I’d like to have the game named after me, I never want to be there again,” Kyle said with a laugh.
Despite the overtime loss, a burden similar to the one Northern used to have remains with Ferris State. After going up early, the Bulldogs gave up three goals in 1:02, a CCHA tournament record for fastest trio of scores. That ultimately lead to FSU's fourth ever appearance at Joe Louis ending the same way the other three have, without a championship.
Unlike Kyle, Ferris State coach Bob Daniels seems OK with carrying around the monkey for another year.
“Obviously it’s a very tough loss for the team, but I’m not disappointed in the effort by the team,” Daniels said. “The fact that we were twice two goals down, once 3-1, once 4-2, we fought ourselves through it, so all in all it was a good effort by our team.”
Daniels, whose team was ranked eighth in the Pairwise coming into the game, is still confident that his team will make the NCAA tournament, but doesn’t want to leave it up to chance. Ferris State will play in the consolation game tomorrow, right before Northern Michigan plays in the finals. A win in that game, and Ferris State should be OK.
Northern Michigan could still get in with a loss in the title game, but would obviously prefer to take care of business the old-fashioned way.
And if Northern Michigan comes out a little faster than usual in the championship game, don’t be surprised. That monkey is gone.