MSU beats Ferris State, sets up GLI final vs. UM
Detroit — Michigan State junior captain Michael Ferrantino's face lit up.
He was asked what it meant to be playing Michigan for the championship of the 50th Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament.
"It's everything," he said. "It's why you come to Michigan State. You get to play in the GLI and you get to play Michigan, and to get them both, it doesn't get a whole lot better than that."
The Spartans (7-9-1) got to the championship game for the first time since 2011 by beating Ferris State, 2-0 Sunday night. Michigan upset No. 5 Michigan Tech, 2-1, in the first semifinal.
And you didn't have to remind Spartans coach Tom Anastos that in 2011, the Spartans lost the GLI title to the Wolverines in overtime, 3-2.
"My focus was to get into the championship game," he said. "The last two years we didn't lose, but we didn't progress to the championship game (losing in shootouts both years). So I wanted to get over that hump with this group."
The game against Ferris State — making its first appearance at the GLI — was a matchup of two of the best goalies in college hockey. The Bulldogs CJ Motte is the NCAA active leader with 14 shutouts and a Hobey Baker finalist, and he was as advertised. But on this night, he got upstaged by Michigan State's Jake Hildebrand, who turned away all 31 shots.
"The whole team wanted to make sure everybody stayed in shape and came back from the break ready for the GLI," Hildebrand said. "The last two years we lost in shootouts and guys had a bitter taste in their mouths and they used it as motivation."
Motte came in ranked sixth in the nation in both save percentage and goals allowed. But the Spartans, as it turned out, only needed to get one by him. They did that early in the second period.
Senior Brett Darnell made a nice move, toe-dragging the puck at the top of the circle to create a screen in front of Motte. His wrist shot eluded Motte's trapper.
"He made a nice move," Motte said. "I got a piece of it but not quite enough."
Hildebrand got a lot of help. The Spartans played an aggressive and smart defensive game. They were active, physical, blocked passes with their sticks and shots with their bodies. They blocked 20 shots and the Bulldogs didn't get many point-blank scoring chances.
"I talked to them on the bench, just continue to be poised, play with poise," Anastos said. "As our team continues to gain experience, we are gaining the confidence we need to play with that kind of poise. We are a team that is gaining confidence."
The Bulldogs had two power play chances in the first 10 minutes of the third period — both coming on minor penalties to defenseman Travis Walsh. They failed to get a shot on goal on the first and had two shots on the second.
Ron Boyd, Josh Jacobs, Joe Cox and John Draeger did strong work on the penalty kill.
"It became a game where it was really hard to earn opportunities," said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels. "They were really strong in the defensive zone. We had a lot of puck possession time but we just seemed to have a hard time getting quality scoring chances."
The Bulldogs (9-8-1) never seriously threatened to tie the game in the final five minutes. They pulled Motte, finally, with 67 seconds left.
Michigan State's Thomas Ebbing scored into the empty net nine seconds later.
"I told them afterward, this is a cool experience to be a part of," Anastos said. "You are playing on an NHL stage. This building only has a couple more years left in it. It's cool just being part of this, the 50th year.
"And you get to play in the best rivalry, in my opinion, in our sport — Michigan State against Michigan. How can it get any better than that?"
Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky