KALAMAZOO, Mich. — No. 8 Michigan earned its seventh regular-season CCHA title Saturday behind junior forward John Shouneyia’s three points en route to a sweep of No. 13 Western Michigan, 6-2.
A capacity crowd of 4,575 at Lawson Ice Arena saw the Broncos take a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period before allowing five unanswered Michigan goals.
For the second consecutive night the smothering Michigan defense prevented WMU from gaining any real momentum, allowing only 15 shots on net.
The Wolverines also dominated special teams, going 3-for-7 on the power play while allowing only three shots on five unsuccessful Bronco power plays.
Senior goaltender Josh Blackburn needed only 13 saves to earn his 21st win of the season. The win was the first for Michigan in Kalamazoo since January 10, 1998. WMU senior netminder Jeff Reynaert made 22 saves in defeat.
Michigan head coach Red Berenson gave credit to his senior backstop.
“(Kalamazoo is) one of the toughest places in the league to play. Certainly, the last game we played in here we came out on the short end, and we felt fortunate that Blackburn held us in the game in the first period, that we were only down by one, and we were fortunate that we scored the tying and the go- ahead goal, and even then, with a one- or two-goal lead, Blackburn had to make some big saves. So we had a senior goalie that really anchored this team, and he was a factor in our success this year.”
WMU head coach Jim Culhane was disappointed the Broncos fell short late in the game, both nights.
“We hung with them both nights for 40 minutes, and it slipped away from us last night, and again tonight in the third period … we played hard both nights, and we fell short both nights in the third period.”
But despite the sweep, Culhane continued to look on the bright side.
“What I’m excited about is the fact we’re finally here, after six years away, hosting home ice. Look at the big picture: right now, you’re disappointed, you’re upset, you let it slip away from you both nights in the third period.
“We finished in sixth, one point out of fifth, we’ve beaten some good teams, and now that’s all behind you … This is why we play: March is exciting.”
Michigan senior forward Craig Murray opened up the scoring midway through the first period at 9:33 on the power play by one-timing a shot off Reynaert from the slot and into the Bronco net to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t take long for WMU to answer when sophomore Lucas Drake tallied his sixth goal of the season at 9:58 of the first period by one-timing a pass coming from freshman Trevor Cook behind the net to even the score.
One positive coming from a disappointing weekend was the continuing hot play of WMU co-captain Dana Lattery. The 6-0, 220-lb. sophomore showed impressive speed for a big man at 18:29 of the first period by blowing past Michigan defenseman Jay Vancik before skating across the crease to put an easy backhand, his 18th goal of the season, past a beaten Blackburn to give WMU a 2-1 lead.
Freshman forward Eric Nystrom evened things up for the Wolverines at 4:24 of the second period by deflecting Vancik’s shot from the left point past Reynaert for his 15th goal of the season, and to tie the game at 2-2.
Shouneyia scored the game winner at 4:22 of the third period when Michigan junior forward Mark Mink sent a pass to the slot from the boards, where Shouneyia deflected it past Reynaert with a backhand for his ninth goal of the season.
The Wolverines wouldn’t have weathered Cammalleri’s six-week absence this season without their senior captains.
“We’ve had some great leadership from our captains Jed Ortmeyer, Johnny Shouneyia, and in Mike Cammalleri’s absence, these guys really carried this team,” said Berenson. “Then Cammalleri came back, and we’re a little better team for him as well.”
“He’s a skilled player and the timing was good. He had six weeks off, we knew he’d be rusty, but he’s such a good player that you can see, when he gets the puck, he’s a special player. He definitely made a difference tonight.”
From there on, it was downhill for WMU. Penalties assessed to senior defenseman Ryan Crane and junior defenseman Dave Cousineau allowed Michigan to capitalize while up 5-on-3. Cammalleri took a cross-ice pass from Shouneyia before one-timing it past Reynaert for his 16th of the season, giving Michigan a 4-2 lead at 7:48 of the third period.
Vancik’s empty-netter at 18:18 of the third and freshman forward Charlie Henderson’s power-play tally at 18:40 brought the game to its final score of 6-2.
Vancik spoke about continuing to fight, despite being down.
“We just keep working, and we know if we keep getting the puck to the net, things will happen. We’ve been in enough games this year that we know if we keep working, keep putting along, we’re going to get the breaks, and fortunately, we put one in there for us in the third period.”
“We definitely had a little problem over the years finishing out some games here; they’ve kind of come back on us. It’s good to come in here, it’s an important game for us, and to finish out our senior career in this building with a victory.”
Culhane kept the optimism coming.
“You learn from it because you’re playing against the best. You have to learn from it, shoot, we’re right there: 40 minutes of hockey we played right with Michigan, you just have to find a way to learn from this, which we will, and get regrouped. There is nothing we can do about it at this point. Are we disappointed? Sure we are, it’s senior night, and it’s an opportunity in a sold-out building to play against a premier opponent in the country. We’re 12th in the country, we’re not that far away.”
The Broncos finished sixth in the CCHA standings and will host seventh-seeded Ohio State for the first round of the CCHA playoffs March 8-9, while Michigan, the first seed, will host 12th-seeded Lake Superior in Ann Arbor.