TAMPA -- Kyle Bonis and the Ferris State Bulldogs had their day at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday.
Come Saturday, they'll get another one.
Bonis scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, and senior goaltender Taylor Nelson made 27 saves as Ferris State earned its first trip to the NCAA championship game by beating Union College 3-1 in the first Frozen Four matchup.
The Bulldogs, making their first appearance in the Frozen Four after winning the regular season championship in the CCHA, will meet the winner of the second semifinal between Boston College and the Minnesota in Saturday's national championship game.
"It feels amazing," Bonis said. "The guys really battled and showed some guts tonight. We'll enjoy it for now, but tomorrow it's back to work."
Bonis snapped a 1-1 tie at 15:17 of the third after backhanding a rebound past Union goaltender Troy Grosenick, who kicked out Brett Wysopal's shot from the top of the left circle with his pad but put the puck right on Bonis' stick.
"It wasn't the greatest shot for him to get a rebound on, I'll tell you that," Wysopal said. "But I knew it wasn't totally off target and I was hoping it wouldn't be too out of reach for Kyle, and luckily it wasn't."
Aaron Schmit sealed the victory by hitting the empty net with 54.8 seconds remaining.
"It feels surreal right now," Schmit said of playing for the national title on Saturday. "We've got two days until we have to flip the switch back on. We'll be ready."
Grosenick stopped 34 of 36 shots for Union (27-8-7), whose lone goal came from Daniel Carr.
Union, who like Ferris State (26-11-5) was making its first-ever trip to the Frozen Four, was the first team from the ECAC to make the tournament since Cornell in 2003.
"I thought we worked hard and I thought our mistakes came down to just small, small errors," Union defenseman Greg Coburn said. "It's disappointing, but I'm sure we'll all look back on this and realize what a great experience this was."
After a scoreless and uneventful first period, the scoring chances picked up in the middle period.
Ferris State had an opportunity to open the scoring as Jason Binkley and Garrett Thompson created a 2-on-1 in the early stages of the second period, but it failed to materialize after Binkley kept the puck and opted to shoot instead of passing over to his teammate, who was open on the left wing.
Instead, it was Union that opened the scoring at 7:56 of the period.
After the Dutchmen won an offensive zone faceoff, Coburn fired a straightaway slap shot from just inside the blue line that was tipped front by Carr, whose redirection beat Nelson cleanly above the glove for a 1-0 lead.
But the Bulldogs' stingy defense got tougher as the game went on. Ferris State outshot Union 37-28, allowing just six shots in the first period and just nine in the third. Thursday's contest also marked the third consecutive game in which the Bulldogs held their opponent to a single goal.
"It took us a little while to get going," Wysopal said. "I think our nerves got the best of us a little bit and I think that showed when we gave up that first goal, but this team has been able to grind it out all season, and we proved that once again today."
Bonis drew Ferris State even to by scoring a power-play with 2:58 left in the period. He came out of the right corner, fired a shot that Grosenick stopped but swatted his own rebound though the goaltender's legs.
"Our motto is just hard work," Bulldogs senior Jordie Johnston said. "Everybody knows that if we're not working hard, we're pretty ineffective. I think we definitely did a good job of showing some character by coming back."
With Ferris State increasingly dominant as the third period progressed, Grosenick kept his team even with a pair of superb saves, denying TJ Schlueter from in close and getting a pad down to deny Schmit on a breakaway with 6:30 to go.
Ferris State's first penalty of the game didn't come until early in the third, and provided Union with a good scoring chance to take the lead on the power play when Wayne Simpson went airborne in front of the net, but couldn't corral the puck.
The teams then exchanged matching minors before Union was whistled for two additional infractions, but the Bulldogs failed to cash in on back-to-back power plays.
[Stamkos] is a great teammate and a great leader, that's why he's got the 'C'. He brings that tremendous work ethic to the rink and he's one of the top players in the game. I know if I put the passes where they are supposed to be, there's a very good chance he's going to put it in the back of the net.
— Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin on linemate Steven Samkos
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