LEWISTON, N.Y. — The book on Western Michigan University over the years has listed the Broncos as an extremely tough home team that’s vulnerable on the road.
WMU has been doing its best to change that in the early going of the 2000-2001 season. The 13th-ranked Broncos scored three power-play goals en route to a 4-1 win over nonconference host Niagara University before a sellout crowd of 1,500 at Dwyer Arena on Friday.
Western Michigan improved to 7-1-1 with the triumph, its best start to a season since going 12-1 during the 1974-75 campaign at the Division II level.
“I think what’s going on right now with our team is we’re learning how to win some hockey games,” Broncos coach Jim Culhane said. “We have good senior leadership. We’ve got a good group of young men that work hard every day and try to improve and get better as a team and players. In the early part of the year, we’ve been fortunate — getting some bounces of the puck on the power play and the puck just seems to continue to go in for us.”
“We need to be obviously more consistent in our behavior, attention to details and thoroughness, which is going to lead to results,” Eagles coach Blaise MacDonald said. “Each and every time we were unthorough or got away from details, we created momentum and scoring opportunities for them and goals.”
Steve Rymsha had two goals for the Broncos, while Jeff Campbell recorded a goal and two assists. But Dana Lattery’s second-period goal did the most damage to the Purple Eagles.
Trailing 2-1, NU coughed up the puck in the neutral zone and Western Michigan quickly went on the offensive with a two-on-one break. Anthony Battaglia drew over the NU defenseman and passed to Lattery, who deked freshman goalie Scott Lindsay at 7:53.
Up to that point, Niagara (1-5-3) still had the momentum generated by Thomas Clayton’s goal at 3:56 of the period on its side, and had been asserting its authority. Lattery’s goal changed that.
“Just guessing he was going to go to that side and when he didn’t, I had to make a desperation [Dominik] Hasek move back. It just hit my glove and went in,” Lindsay said.
Rymsha scored the fourth goal on the power play at 7:34 of the third period, effectively ending any chance Niagara had of rallying. The goal resulted from a defensive-zone turnover by the Eagles. Mike Bishai took a pass on the right side from Campbell for a two-on-one break and fed a cross-ice pass to Rymsha, who one-timed a shot past Lindsay.
Before Western Michigan seized a 3-1 lead, NU failed on its two quality chances to tie the game. John Heffernan passed from behind the net to a wide open Bernie Sigrist in the slot, but Sigrist’s one-timer was stopped by goalie Jeff Reynaert (19 saves). Moments later, Joe Tallari fired wide on a point-blank chance.
Then a turnover by Niagara at center ice effectively sealed the outcome.
“It’s extremely frustrating because … every time it’s in our end, they get the bounces and when it’s in their end we seem to never get the bounces. Nine games now, it’s been happening,” said Lindsay, who finished with 23 saves.
“That’s the story of a young team not understanding momentum swings, how a little turnover like that can all of the sudden come back and be a big thing,” NU coach Blaise MacDonald said. “(WMU’s) a terrific team, very well coached. And you give them a lead like that when it could have been 2-2 and it ends up being 3-1, that’s really like a four-goal lead. That’s how big the momentum swing is.”
Campbell scored at 3:47 of the first period on the power play to give the Broncos a 1-0 lead. Rymsha tipped in a shot on the power play at 1:56 of the second period to increase the bulge.
Clayton pulled Niagara within 2-1 on the power play two minutes later. Western Michigan finished 3-for-7 with the man advantage, while the Eagles converted one of four chances.
The same two teams hook up again at 4 p.m. Saturday in the first of two games at the Punch Imlach College Hockey Showcase at HSBC Arena. Canisius hosts Mercyhurst in the event’s other game at 7.