DETROIT — Big hits, clanged posts, blocked shots, dislodged nets, post-whistle shoving matches.
While there was a lack of scoring in the Great Lakes Invitational semifinal game between Michigan State and Ferris State, there was still plenty to get excited about in a physical battle in which the Spartans topped the Bulldogs 2-0 Sunday night.
The up-and-down pace of play opened the door for big, open-ice hits and fast-paced scoring chances. Whistle stoppages were accompanied by several scrums and shoving matches in a haze of crimson and green ensued.
A physical game was just what Spartans center Michael Ferrantino was hoping for.
“We wanted to make sure we controlled the first 10 minutes and came out,” Ferrantino said. “(We) put pucks behind their D, kinda bump into them and make sure they were feeling a little bit of pressure. You always want to set the tone, I think we did a pretty good job.”
The knock-down, drag-out battle took some time, but eventually opened the door for finesse and goal scoring.
Spartans forward Brent Darnell carried the puck into the offensive zone and drifted from his right to left across the top of the slot. In doing so, Darnell — a right-handed shot — pulled a toe drag around Bulldogs center Andrew Dorantes, used the defender as a screen and fired a wrist shot past goaltender C.J. Motte to give Michigan State the first goal of the game 3:35 into the second period.
“They just kind of backed off and I had some time so I pulled up and just tried to get it on net,” Darnell said. “I don’t know if the goalie didn’t see it but fortunately, it went in.”
For 60 minutes, the two teams traded blows. Early on, forward Carson Gatt drove hard to the net for the Spartans and was sent airborne over the top of Motte. Similarly, Bulldogs forward Chad McDonald attacked the Spartans goal with a scoring chance that was negated by Jake Hildebrand but McDonald’s momentum carried him into the goalie and again, knocking the net off its moorings.
The physicality didn’t stop there. Between hits and blocked shots, the Spartans and Bulldogs exchanged blows all night, combining for 30 blocked shots.
Four minutes into the third period, Spartans defenseman Travis Walsh was called for tripping, sending the Bulldogs on a crucial power play with a chance to tie the game. With the team’s leading shot blocker in the penalty box, Michigan State’s PK unit came up huge with two blocked shots from the blue line and held the Bulldogs without a shot on net.
“It takes so much pressure off of me knowing that when a guy is coming down, pulls his stick back to shoot and a guy goes on one knee and eats one, it’s just huge,” Hildebrand said. “When they do things like that for me, I want to do everything I can to keep the puck out of the net for them.”
The Spartans blocked 20 shots in addition to Hildebrand’s 31 saves, shutting out the first-time GLI participant Bulldogs.
“I think that’s a sign that they’re positioned very well defensively in their own zone,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “Everybody wants to block a lot of shots but if you’re out of position in your own end, if you’re turning pucks over where you can’t get someone in a shot lane, then those shot blocks won’t be there. Obviously they were well positioned in their own zone and then you’ve got to give the players a lot of credit for being willing to (block shots).”
Forward Thomas Ebbing would add an empty-net goal in the final minute of the game, solidifying a GLI championship matchup with the Spartans rival Michigan Wolverines.
The championship game between Michigan and Michigan State will take place at 7:00 p.m. following the consolation game between Michigan Tech and Ferris State at 3:30 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena.