KALAMAZOO, Mich. — After losing the series’ opening game 5-2 on Thursday, the No. 6 Western Michigan Broncos rebounded to defeat the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes 5-4 in a back-and-forth game in Lawson Arena on Friday.
Mike Bishai had four assists, Jeff Campbell had two goals and Jeff Reynaert made 22 saves in a game that saw the lead change hands four times.
“The game kind of reminded me of a college basketball game, where you have momentum swings and each team would have a run,” Broncos coach Jim Culhane said.
“We had a run at the beginning of the game, and they countered back, and it kind of went back and forth. Obviously, it was very nerve-wracking for a coach.”
The Buckeyes scored first but the Broncos led 2-1 after one on goals by Dave Cousineau and Campbell.
At 9:27, Dave Steckel tipped in Paul Caponigri’s blast from the top of the right circle for Ohio State’s brief 1-0 lead, but Cousineau knotted it at one each on a five-on-three Western Michigan advantage at 12:39.
Campbell picked up a Bishai rebound when Bishai took a faceoff at 17:25 for the Bronco lead. Bishai won the puck in the left circle, spun and shot. Betz went left hard and fast, leaving the right side of the net open for Campbell’s 12th goal of the season.
The second period belonged to the Buckeyes, who scored twice at even strength and once shorthanded, and outshot the Broncos 13-7.
After Mike Betz kicked aside a Cambpell shot from the right circle five minutes into the second stanza, Mike McCormick picked up the rebound and fired long through the neutral zone for Steckel, who broke in slowly on Reynaert and waited for the netminder to commit before tucking it in behind Reynaert for the tying goal at 5:03.
Jason Crain gave the Buckeyes their second lead at 6:39 when he stole the puck from Bishai in the neutral zone and passed to Umberger, who was heading back on the right. Umberger and Crain skated in together, Umberger passed across the slot to Crain and the patient Crain backhanded it to make it 3-2.
J.F. Dufour put the Buckeyes two ahead while shorthanded after an unbelievable move by Umberger to get the puck into the Bronco zone at 16:22. Umberger rode a Bronco defender down the left wing, then pirouetted completely around the skater at the blue line and rifled over to Dufour, breaking in on the right wing.
But seconds later, on the same Bronco power play, Western finally managed to keep the puck in the Buckeye zone long enough for Bishai to send a pass from the right point to Campbell, stationed to the left of the Buckeye cage. Betz went right, and Campbell’s 13th goal of the season was an easy open-netter, bringing the Broncos to within one again.
Brett Mills knotted the score at 4 at 9:47 in the third after Lucas Drake forced a turnover in the neutral zone, but the momentum took a permanent Bronco shift at 11:55, courtesy of Jeff Reynaert.
Reynaert — who at times through the game was called upon to make save after save close in, with little help from the Western defense — stopped a shot by McCormick from just outside the crease, but gave up the rebound to Dufour, who was also right on top of the net.
Instead of trying to jam the puck past Reynaert, who was scrambling low to the ice, Dufour tried to lift the puck up and over, and by every law of physics should have given the Buckeyes another lead, but Reynaert made an impossible catch and came up from the heap of Broncos and Buckeyes holding the puck aloft in his glove, like an outfielder who had prevented the winning run.
Minutes later, after pressuring the Buckeyes in the OSU end, Bishai won a faceoff in the left circle and passed over to Cousineau at the right point. Cousineau’s blast ricocheted off Mills’ skate and landed on the stick of Steve Rymsha, who tucked it in top shelf for the game-winning goal.
“We rebounded very nicely,” Culhane said. “We needed to play better. Give Ohio State a little credit. They play very well and deserved to win that hockey game [last night]. But I felt we played pretty well, and when we were behind we found a way to come back and to win.
“The one time they had the puck in our zone for a solid four minutes, and we told the guys to keep their feet moving and play with composure, don’t get unraveled, play with confidence.”
The next league action the Buckeyes (10-5-1, 7-4-1 CCHA) and the Broncos (12-3-2, 7-2-2 CCHA) see is against each other, Jan. 5-6 in Columbus, Ohio. The win gave Western Michigan sole possession of second place in the CCHA.
“We needed to get the split to keep us in the top half of the league,” Culhane said. “Obviously, it helps make those two games down there [in Columbus] to be really exciting. These are pretty familiar teams right now.”