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March 22, 2014 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Ferris State Wins Thriller; Minnesota State Ready for Final

by Harrison Watt/CHN Reporter

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The WCHA Final Five may not be what it used to be in a lot of people's eyes, thanks to the "re-organization" of college hockey over the last year. But that didn't stop it from having terrific hockey and all the drama and intrigue you'd expect from a prestigious tournament.

When it was done, it was only fitting that the two teams that have battled for the top spot all year, Ferris State and Minnesota State, would be the ones left standing to play for the Broadmoor Trophy today.

Minnesota State had a bit less drama in its game, a 4-0 win over Bowling Green in which freshman Cole Huggins made 36 saves. It was a crucial win, not just for this tournament, but for the Mavericks' NCAA hopes. They are likely to get in now even with a loss in the championship game, but that is not entirely certain, depending on other results.

Ferris State had the luxury of knowing it was headed to the NCAAs, and at times, it played that way against Alaska-Anchorage. It was a sloppy game that saw major swings in momentum, and a wide open second period, until a scoreless third sent the teams to overtime. There, Gerald Mayhew scored 2:38 in to give Ferris State the win.

"I thought it was a very weird game," FSU coach Bob Daniels said. "I thought we hibernated for a period there."

The Bulldogs took an early 2-0 lead, scoring on the game's first two shots, only to see Anchorage score the next four goals. Garrett Thompson and Andy Huff then turned it right back around, tying the game before the end of the second period, and the game tightened from there.

"We built a lead that maybe came too easy, and we weren't playing that well," Daniels said. "And we kicked it in when we fell behind two goals.

"You can tell your team pretty well by the time you get to this point of the year. We didn't have any energy on the bench. We were taking shortcuts. You could tell we weren't locked in.

"Andy Huff had a couple really good shifts, I thought that was uplifting. Then he got the tying goal there."

The winning play started with Ferris senior center Cory Kane, who hadn’t practiced all week while battling the flu, but Daniels wouldn’t take credit for putting him out just one more time.

“I wasn’t even going to put [Kane] out for that faceoff because I was trying to get [Kyle] Schempp in here and there,” Daniels said. “And it was [assistant coach Drew] Famulak who told me ‘Hey, put him out one more time’ and then I said ok and then he won the draw.”

Looking for answers from above

While Ferris State was struggling with its game, Alaska-Anchorage coach Matt Thomas was wrestling with his own decision about his goaltending. Rob Gunderson was the No. 1 most of the year, but when he hit a rough patch mid-season, Chris Kamal came in and performed very well for a month before the team went back to Gunderson for the postseason.

So, when Gunderson hit a wall Friday night, Thomas made the switch after two periods, and it stabilized the game. But it wasn't easy.

"During that first time out, I usually try to talk to the whole team," Thomas said. "But I had a little individual conversation with (Gunderson). And I said, 'I don't care, you're a warrior, you competed all year, you're the one that got us here.'

"I almost went to (Kamal) after the first period, but I didn't want it to cross my mind because Rob Gunderson had been so good. And I think he responded and made some pretty good saves. But sometimes it's just not your night. And in the goaltending position — a forward can get away with it, a D-man can get exposed ... a goaltender, everybody knows. I just thought that, when it wasn't his night, with the situation we were in, for a motivation factor to our team — I knew our team would step up, I knew Chris Kamal would step up. And I knew Rob Gunderson understood."

Thomas said he channeled a famous past experience in making the move.

"I got to coach under Shawn Walsh (at Maine)," the first-year coach said. "If you remember the story, he won a national championship and pulled his goalie going into the third period, and you'd have thought it was nuts to do it. And every moment I was making that decision, I was thinking of him."

Meanwhile, Daniels was also looking for the right answers.

"All year, we played four lines religiously. Probably the earliest we ever shut down to three lines is with five or six minutes to go in a one-goal game," Daniels said. "Tonight, when we had the two-goal lead, Anchorage, for quite a while, went down to two lines. They were playing (Matt) Bailey every other shift, and I continued to try to keep rolling four lines. That was a little mistake on my part."

Said Thompson, "After they pumped in a few, I don't know if we lost momentum or what. But we dug down. You don't want to have that happen in the middle of a game, where you realize that, but we responded."

The matchup

The mindset switches to the title game for the two remaining teams. They know each other well, from a season of battling against each other, and scoreboard watching the final weekend. Minnesota State's tie on the final day of the regular season allowed the Bulldogs to win the MacNaughton Cup outright by one point.

"It'll be a terrific hockey game. They're a really, really good team," Daniels said of Minnesota State. "It'll be a high-paced, high-tempo game. They're strong, physical — a good all-around team."

Hastings believes his team set a good tone for the final by its improvement on the penalty kill. After allowing some goals the weekend before in a playoff series against Northern Michigan, the Mavericks shut down a Bowling Green team on all six attempts that had been hovering around 40 percent power-play efficiency in recent weeks.

"I had some sleepless nights watching that video tape (of BG's power play)," Hastings said. "It looked like they had it on a string. So it was something we needed to get better at. ... (Last week), we had a couple opportunities to block some shots and we didn't, so it was nice to see the guys pick it up."

A lot of the usual suspects scored for Minnesota State in the semifinal — Bryce Gervais, shorthanded, his 16th; Johnny McInnis, his 21st; and Matt Leitner, his 12th. And also Chase Grant. It's a reliable group that symbolizes what the program has become.

"We've been trying to take strides as a program the last two years," Hastings said. "To see them be rewarded for what they put forth, you're prideful of that. The leadership core we have with Johnny McInnis and Chase Grant, Chase is usually an unsung hero - he immediately went for the first penalty he took and said, 'Coach, I'll get it back.' And he did that. So, from the standpoint of our program, trying to progress, it's another step."

The future

The immediate future for two teams is a championship game. For the other two, it's a chance to reflect on a season — an interesting one where everyone was trying to get accustomed to new surroundings, for better or for worse. But in most ways, for the better.

"At the right time of year, we were a very good team," Thomas said. "Time will heal, and we'll be able to reflect on a very good season.

"It's always a little bit of an opportunity to reflect when the season ends. Emotionally you invest so much into it, so for it to be over, it's something that doesn't feel very good. So right now, we feel like we let ourselves down. But there was a good base, a good foundation there.

"What I got to inherit was a very good group of young men that came together the right way. ... This season proves how good of a program we can be. It's not going to happen automatically. Next year we're going to need the same type of performance. Guys will have to step up to fill the void of guys that are graduating."

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