TAMPA - Ferris State did not capture the NCAA championship Saturday night, but it gained plenty of respect from Boston College, which won its fifth national title with a 4-1 victory in front of 18,818 fans at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Ferris State wasn’t given much of a chance entering the game against the No. 1 team in the country, a squad riding an 18-game winning streak.
A running joke on social media last week was that the Frozen Four was a contest between the junior varsity (Ferris State and Union) and the varsity (BC, Minnesota).
The Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 1 for a spell early in the season, were dead set on disproving the joke.
“We’ve heard about how the small schools can’t hang with the big schools all year, and we just kind of roll our eyes at it,’’ senior goalie Taylor Nelson said before the game. “I always kind of laugh at that.’’
No one on this team from Big Rapids, Mich., cared that the Eagles (33-10-1) possessed nine NHL draft picks while the Bulldogs (26-12-5) had none.
It didn’t matter that this was Ferris State’s first appearance in the Frozen Four, and Boston College was competing in its 11th championship game.
“I thought we stacked up well with them,’’ said Nelson. “They’re a good team, what can I say? But I think we did all we could to prove we could beat them.’’
The Bulldogs put up a good fight and the outcome could have gone either way until Johnny Gaudreau’s spectacular goal clinched it for BC late in the third period.
“I think if we were to play Boston College again, though, in another few games, I’d like our chances,’’ Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said.
“I don’t know if we’d beat them, but I certainly thought our guys have nothing to hang their heads about. I thought they played right with them and were very capable of winning a game like that tonight.’’
The Eagles were prepared for a tough contest.
“We knew Ferris State would have an outstanding team,’’ BC coach Jerry York said. “They don’t have the name recognition, but they finished ahead of five teams with NCAA Tournament experience - including Michigan, Western Michigan, Miami, Michigan State, and Lake Superior - so we knew right away, they had an excellent team.’’
Nelson, who entered the game with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, nearly duplicated the feats of BC junior keeper Parker Milner, who has been in the net for the entire Eagles win streak.
Milner’s .982 save percentage in BC’s four tournament games is third best all-time and the best since 1972.
Despite a breakdown on defense that led to the Eagles’ first goal (by Steven Whitney) and an unlucky break on Paul Carey’s deflection midway through the first period, Nelson gave the Bulldogs an opportunity for an upset.
“[Nelson] has been a rock for us all season and he gave us the confidence we could win this game by the way he played over these past few weeks and the way he played throughout this game,’’ said Ferris State defenseman Chad Billins, who was named to the all-tournament team.
“He made some incredible saves to keep us in the game and it’s too bad we weren’t able to put some in on the other end for him.’’
The Bulldogs created several opportunities, but were able to beat Milner only once when Garrett Thompson stole a pass near center ice, fed Travis Ouellette along the left side, and then scored on a rebound to tie the game 5:19 into the first period.
“We definitely didn’t take advantage of the power plays,’’ Ferris State senior winger Jordie Johnston said. “In any game, that’s going to kill you. And it was at a crucial time in the game, too. Probably would have changed the outcome quite a bit.’’
Ferris State went 0 for 4 on power plays, including three in the second period and one that carried over into the third.
Despite losing seven seniors, Daniels believes the program has set a standard of excellence for years to come.
“It’s really blazed a trail,’’ Daniels said. “Not only this year, but this class will leave with three straight winning years, three really great seasons, and the team itself did break some new ground for us.’’