The Seawolves' come-from-way-back bid came up empty Saturday night, and that spotlighted their problem: They found themselves in a position where only a monumental rally would suffice.
After nationally-ranked and league-leading Ferris State turned three glaring UAA mistakes in the first period into three goals, the Bulldogs held off the Seawolves, 5-3, in Big Rapids, Mich., to sweep the Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
The Seawolves (15-13-4, 11-11-4 WCHA) trailed 4-3 and were on the power play inside the final two minutes when they got dinged for a bench minor for too many men -- coach Matt Thomas said that was his fault for not communicating well enough with his players inside Ewigleben Ice Arena.
Ferris State (23-7-3, 18-4-2 WCHA), ranked No. 5 in one national poll and No. 6 in the other, tacked on an empty-net goal with one second left to remain unbeaten (11-0-1) in WCHA home games.
"It was great to see us have the never-give-up attitude, but obviously a start like that on the road is unacceptable,'' Thomas said by text. "We had too many players play average games in the first period and it cost us.''
UAA, which slipped into solo fourth place in the WCHA, was able to mount a rally largely on the shoulders of captain and senior center Matt Bailey. He scored two goals and assisted on Brett Cameron's goal. Cameron's strike 14 seconds into the third period trimmed Ferris State's edge to 4-3.
"Bailey's line (Scott Allen, Bailey and Cameron) was absolutely phenomenal and it should be contagious to see guys compete that hard,'' Thomas said.
UAA, one of two teams in the 10-team league with as few as two league games remaining, sits idle this week, when other teams will have the opportunity to leap over it in the standings. Just five points separate fourth-place UAA from ninth-place Northern Michigan, which has two league games in hand on the Seawolves.
That math is critical because only the top eight teams in the league make the WCHA playoffs -- finishers Nos. 9 and 10 (Alabama-Huntsville has locked 10th place) pack their bags on the season. UAA's two losses to Ferris State, which marked the first time the Seawolves have lost consecutive games since mid-December, seriously damaged their chances of earning home ice for the playoffs. The top four teams get home ice for the best-of-3, first-round playoff series.
After suffering a 4-2 loss Friday in which they fell behind 2-0 in the first period, the Seawolves were looking for a better start. They produced a worse one. Their 3-0 deficit tied for their largest deficit through 20 minutes this season. And they had themselves to blame.
Garrett Thompson's goal eight minutes into the game, off Justin Buzzeo's centering pass from the left corner, came when not a single Seawolf was within a stick's length of Rob Gunderson's crease and Thompson was right in Gunderson's kitchen.
Gerald Mayhew's goal came off a 50-50 face-off. Mayhew picked up the loose puck and beat a path straight to the net, easily avoiding Andrew Pettitt's stick-check.
And Cory Kane's goal came when Chase Van Allen turned over the puck with an ill-advised backward pass in the neutral zone and blew past Van Allen.
Bailey reduced the deficit to 3-1 six minutes into the second period when Allen muscled down the left side and hit him with a centering pass.
Yet on an ensuing UAA power play following a scrum after Bailey's goal, Andy Huff raced in short-handed and beat Gunderson high to the glove side to restore the Bulldogs' three-goal cushion at 4-1.
Bailey's second goal, a 4-on-3, power-play shot from the slot beat C.J. Motte (37 saves) to the blocker side deep into the second period. And Cameron's goal just seconds into the third period, to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 4-3, gave the Seawolves a strong chance.
Motte got a piece of his glove on a Bailey shot in the third period and the puck came tantalizingly close to the goal line before a Bulldog cleared it from danger. And Gunderson (26 saves) robbed Kenny Babinski from point-blank range during a chaotic sequence in his crease with about nine minutes to go.
Bailey's team-leading 17 goals in 34 games are the most by a Seawolves skater since Kevin Clark racked 23 goals in 36 games in 2009-10.
Bailey's three-point game marked his ninth multiple-point game this season and the 20th of his career. Allen's two helpers marked his seventh multiple-point game this season and the 12th of the junior's career.
With a team-high 32 points in 32 games, Bailey is on pace to become the first Seawolves skater to average a point per game since Clark, who plays professionally in Germany, had 37 points in 36 games in 2009-10.
Bailey's 17 goals match his total from a combined 70 games as a junior (7 goals) and sophomore (10). He fired a game-high seven shots on goal Saturday.
Cameron's goal snapped his 13-game goal drought.
UAA's 21 shots in the second period, when it enjoyed power plays aplenty, were five more than in any previous game this season.
UAA is 2-8-2 in WCHA road games.
UAA finishes the regular season with WCHA road games March 7-8 against UAF. Those games also wrap the four-game Governor's Cup series that is currently tied at 1-1.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
First Period -- 1, Ferris St., Thompson 14 (Buzzeo, Schempp), 8:06; 2, Ferris St., Mayhew 4 (Kane), 15:41; 3, Ferris St., Kane 10, 17:30. Penalties -- Van Allen, UAA (holding), 3:49; Roy, UAA (boarding), 13:12; Czarnowczan, Ferris St. (interference), 18:45.
Second Period -- 4, UAA, Bailey 16 (Allen), 6:08; 5, Ferris St., Huff 7 (Kane, Binkley), 6:38 (sh); 6, UAA, Bailey 17 (Coldwell, Tatchell), 14:27 (pp). Penalties -- White, Ferris St. (hooking), 2:29; Babinski, Ferris St. (roughing), 6:08; Sevalrud, UAA (roughing), 6:08; McDonald, Ferris St. (unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:08; Czarnowczan, Ferris St. (interference), 6:53; Ferris St. bench minor, served by Mayhew (too many men,), 8:38; Docken, UAA (interference), 10:55; Klecha, Ferris St. (hooking), 13:29; Kwas, UAA (hooking), 13:29; O'Rourke, Ferris St. (holding), 13:40; Kane, Ferris St. (tripping), 15:36.
Third Period -- 7, UAA, Cameron 7 (Allen, Bailey), :14; 8, Ferris St., McDonald 9 (Babinksi), 19:59 (en-pp). Penalties -- Williams, UAA (elbowing), 15:59; UAA bench minor, served by Rassell (too many men), 18:45.
Shots on goal -- UAA 11-21-8--40. Ferris St. 13-7-11--31.
Power-play Opportunities -- UAA 1 of 8. Ferris St. 1 of 5.
Goalies -- UAA, Gunderson, 7-6-2 (30 shots-26 saves). Ferris St., Motte, 22-5-3 (40 shots-37 saves).
A -- 2,490 (2,490). T -- 2:29.
Referees -- Peter Friesema, Butch Mousseaux. Assistant referees -- Pat Bracco, Matt Miller.