TAMPA - When Kyle Bonis scored with 4:43 left Thursday, the approximately 600 hockey fans wearing the crimson and gold of Ferris State in the Tampa Bay Times Forum erupted in anticipation of the school’s first appearance in the NCAA championship game.
Aaron Schmit’s second goal of the game - an empty-netter with 55 seconds remaining - sealed the deal as Ferris State beat Union, 3-1, in the first Frozen Four semifinal.
The Bulldogs (26-11-5), which reached the NCAA Tournament for only the second time, will play in Saturday’s final against Boston College, a 6-1 winner over Minnesota in the nightcap.
“It feels surreal right now,’’ said Schmit, who had tallied just six goals heading into the semifinal. “We’ve got two days now until we have to put the switch back on.’’
Three busloads of fans made the trek 1,258 miles from the campus in Grand Rapids, Mich., to the first Frozen Four held in the southern region of the country, a mere 26-hour ride.
“It might have been a bit long, but we weren’t going to miss this for the world,’’ said John Roy, a longtime Ferris State fan. “This is all about the experience and making memories.’’
After a scoreless first period that featured just 13 combined shots on goal, Union ended the tie 7:56 into the second period when Daniel Carr deflected a straightaway shot by Greg Coburn past Ferris State goalie Taylor Nelson.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game, so we just stayed together and kept working hard to control the puck,’’ Schmit said. “When we first came out there, we came out kind of slow. Once we got the [tying] goal, it kind of eased things up for us. It swung the momentum and we were finally able to play like we usually do.’’
Schmit tied it with a power-play goal with 2:58 left in the period. Bonis worked his way out of the corner and fired a shot toward Union netminder Troy Grosenick, who pushed the puck away toward Schmit. However, the senior forward then easily put it in the back of the net.
“When we took those penalties, it hurt us and it’s tough to kill those in these types of games,’’ Coburn said. “It’s just the small things, the littlest things. They got one on the power play. That hurt us a bit. It’s just the little things that hurt you.’’
After the Dutchmen placed two early shots on goal in the third period, the Bulldogs began to exert their will. At one point in the period, Ferris State put eight consecutive shots toward Union’s net before the Dutchmen regained control.
But after a shot by Union’s Josh Jooris was blocked by defenseman Brett Wysopal, the Bulldogs strung together eight more shots before Wysopal gathered a loose puck and raced along the left boards and sent a low liner toward Grosenick. The Union sophomore saved it, but Bonis was there to send it in for the winner.
“There was a lot of nerves out there, especially early on in the game,’’ Wysopal said. “Pucks were jumping off everyone’s sticks.
“On the goal . . . It wasn’t a very good shot, just got him in the right spot. I was praying that it wasn’t out of reach for Bonis and luckily it wasn’t and he buried it.’’
Union (26-8-7) was also making its first trip to the Frozen Four, the first team from the ECAC to get this far since Cornell in 2003.
The Dutchmen put out a furious effort to tie the game, but after a faceoff in the Bulldogs’ end with 2:02 left, Schmit found a loose puck and carried it down the ice to cap the scoring.