KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Early in the second period, Western Michigan freshman forward Brent Walton, weighing in at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, leveled Nebraska-Omaha senior and 6-0, 200-pound defenseman Greg Zanon with a devastating open-ice hit.
Despite giving up 30 pounds to the All-American defenseman, Walton’s hit was obviously a sign of things to come, and helped inspire the Broncos to a big win.
Junior forward Jeff Campbell recorded a career-high five points, sophomore forward Pat Dwyer capitalized on WMU’s first penalty shot since 1997, and the Broncos chased UNO junior goaltender Dan Ellis mid-way through the contest, as WMU stunningly routed the Mavericks, 8-2, in the most lopsided contest all-time between the two schools.
“I think what it stems from is last weekend,” said WMU coach Jim Culhane. “We played well at Maine both nights, I think the third period of hockey on Sunday was our best period of hockey, and I think that transcended over into our work ethic this week. I think we had a good night tonight; we executed on our special teams, worked hard for 60 minutes, and also got a bounce. We were hitting on all cylinders tonight.
“It’s so early in the year, we’re still learning about ourselves as a team and what it takes to be successful, and I’ve been driving down their throat that you have to work hard. I like our team, I have confidence in our team, but we just need to work hard every time out.”
UNO allowed the most goals in a contest since an 8-2 loss to Niagara on Jan. 29, 1999. WMU has recorded back-to-back wins against the Mavericks for the first time in series history.
“Obviously we have to re-evaluate what we did tonight and make some changes,” said UNO head coach Mike Kemp. “One, we have to have better positioning. I think our guys did a very poor job of maintaining position through the neutral ice and back in our own end, and that’s something that’s very correctable. We just didn’t play with our heads as well as our hearts, and that cost us tonight.”
Campbell’s two goals and three assists on the evening, including the game winner, highlighted an evening where the Broncos took a 3-0 lead in the first period and never looked back.
WMU received solid goaltending as well from sophomore goaltender Mike Mantua, who posted 20 saves to earn his first victory of the season. Ellis finished his short night with 12 saves on 17 shots, while his replacement, junior goaltender Brian Haaland, didn’t fare much better, allowing three goals on eight shots.
“We just needed to get something going,” said Kemp about pulling Ellis early. “Dan Ellis was hardly the reason we were in the position we were, but sometimes by doing that you can light a spark under the other 18 guys playing in front of him.”
Junior forward Lucas Drake opened the scoring at 5:55 in the first period by taking a big rebound off a blast from Dave Cousineau and beating Ellis high to put WMU up early 1-0.
Senior forward Brent Rumble put WMU up 2-0 after deflecting a shot in traffic from junior defenseman Mike Jarmuth at 16:59 of the first period. Campbell then tallied 13 seconds into the second period by knocking home a shot past Ellis as the alternate captain was pushed into the net by a UNO defenseman.
The Mavericks closed the lead to 3-1 at 10:11 of the second period when freshman forward John Thomas tallied his first goal of the season by cashing in a Mantua rebound to keep UNO in the contest.
UNO had problems with speed of the Bronco forwards all evening, and the Broncos exposed that weakness at 12:26 when Dwyer fed Walton on a 2-on-0 break before Walton beat Ellis with a beautiful top-shelf one-timer to put the Broncos up 4- 1.
Culhane stressed not coming out flat after their last home game, an 8-5 loss to Notre Dame.
“Our last time out, we disappointed ourselves and the people that were in attendance,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that we put on a good showing tonight, making sure that we came back and played real hard. I told the team before the game, ‘Win or lose, we have to play hard for 60 minutes.’”
Dwyer received another opportunity for a point 17 seconds later after he was awarded a penalty shot for being taken down from behind on a breakaway. Dwyer tallied by waiting until Ellis went down to make a save and roofing the puck to give WMU a 5-1 lead.
“I knew I had to get him moving,” said Dwyer. “I waited for him to go down, and I waited until he ran out of leg and put it upstairs. I was lucky he came so far out on the shot.”
Culhane stressed the importance of not getting too excited about the win.
“I can tell you right now, it’s not going to be an 8-2 game [Saturday].”