MARQUETTE, Mich. — Down a game to Northern Michigan, Western Michigan stayed alive in its first-round playoff series Saturday night, beating NMU 9-7 in an offensive shootout, forcing a deciding Game 3 on Sunday.
Western Michigan proved the hardest thing to do is to end a team’s season, scoring five goals in the second period and four in the third after trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes.
The Bronco line of Steve Rymsha, Mike Bishai and Jeff Campbell accounted for five of those goals, totaling 13 points between the three players.
After a relatively tame opening period, both teams became offensive juggernauts during the closing 40 minutes, bringing drama and excitement to a loud Berry Events Center crowd.
The Wildcats (17-12-6) overcame a three-goal deficit during the third period to tie the game at 7-7, before Campbell scored two late goals for the Broncos in the final 2:01.
“We played a horrible second period,” NMU coach Rick Comley said. “But then we came back and tied the game, and we had a shorthanded breakaway [with the game tied in the third] but their goaltender made a tremendous save.”
The breakaway came courtesy of freshman Alex Sawruk, who had a goal and an assist in the contest. He seemed to have Western goalie Jeff Reynaert beaten, but Reynaert stuck out his stick to make the save.
It was Brent Robertson who gave Northern Michigan an original 1-0 lead late in the first, but Western scored a pair of quick goals early in the second, as Dana Lattery and Lucas Drake gave the Broncos a 2-1 lead.
NMU’s Bryce Cockburn evened things at 2-2 on the power play at 6:13, but Rymsha made it a 3-2 game shortly later. Wildcat senior Fred Mattersdorfer quickly returned the favor to even things again. Anthony Battaglia scored at 13:44 to give Western Michigan a 4-3 lead, but Jimmy Jackson tied things again at 14:59. Mike Jarmuth ended the second-period scoring with a power-play marker at 18:08 to make it 5-4 in favor of the visiting Broncos.
Any thoughts of Western Michigan clamping down defensively in the third quickly went to bed, as Bishai and Rymsha each scored quick goals to make it 7-4.
But NMU made a case for its own offensive abilities, as Justin Kinnunen, Mattersdorfer and Alex Sawruk each scored to tie things at 7-7. That’s when Western’s Campbell took over, netting the game winner at 17:59 and an empty-net marker at 19:30 to finish things off.
Reynaert finished with 27 saves for the Broncos. Dan Ragusett stopped 15 in the first two periods for NMU before being relieved by freshman Craig Kowlalski, who stopped six shots during the final 20 minutes.
“We are a young hockey team, and perhaps we showed the effects of that tonight, but I have faith in the guys and I know we will bounce back tomorrow,” Comley said.
“It was just a roller coaster type game, and the question is can we stabilize and get things back under control? We don’t want that kind of game — obviously it is not to our advantage.”
Faceoff for Game 3 is set for 7:05 p.m. Eastern on Sunday at the Berry Events Center.