KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The youngsters were the key Friday as Western Michigan claimed a 5-3 victory over rival Ferris State., led by the play by freshman goaltender Daniel Bellissimo, who recorded his eighth win on the season by stopping a flurry of 45 shots by the Bulldogs.
He proved worthy of his recent honor as CCHA Rookie of the Week for his efforts last weekend against Alabama-Huntsville, and showed no signs of slowing down.
And though the Bulldogs seemed to have the upper hand throughout, they were unable to finish as forward Mike Lesperance netted the game winner for the Broncos.
Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels knows his team has struggled giving up leads.
“Our problem is not so much when we generate shots, but when we blow a lead, we blow a lead big,” he said.
With just under three minutes to play, the Broncos blew the roof off with a smart play by Lesperance in having his stick on the ice, allowing teammate Paul Szczechura to find him in front and beating Bulldog goalie Mike Brown high to put the Broncos up 4-3.
“It was a big goal; it will definitely give him confidence.” Broncos head coach Jim Culhane said.
Ferris looked to get the momentum back as the Broncos’ Ryan Mahrle took a costly penalty with a high stick at 9:17 in the third period. A nice power-play setup resulted in the game-tying goal from Ferris’ Joe Van Culin, who let off a one-time slapper which got deflected in front past Bellissimo.
The Broncos and the freshman force started the period off strong. A goal by Jeff Pierce gave the Broncos a shocking 3-2 lead at 1:37 of the third despite being outshot 37-11 through two periods of play.
Penalties were the theme throughout the second as Western Michigan was called for six and Ferris four
Just over six minutes into the second, the crazies in Lawson thought they had a tally as Minnesota transfer Mike Erickson put a shot on net — but Brown came up huge, sliding his right pad out to make the save. It was so close, the arena horn even went off, but to no avail for Western.
At 11:07 of the second, Bronco’s forward Brian Bicek was on the score sheet again as he etched his 6th goal of the season tying the game at two a piece. Twenty seconds into a Western Michigan power play by a charging Bicek gathered a loose puck, which seemed to have eyes of its own, as it was slapped by Brown going underneath the left arm.
The other half the period was a one man show from the Bronco’s goaltender Bellissimo, who saved a goal diving across his net during a mad rush from the power play of Ferris State.
Erickson didn’t let his close call get to him as he kept at it and was rewarded. At 11:37 of the first period as a smart play by Pierce throwing the puck on net was followed by Erickson as he cut the early Ferris lead to half, 2-1.
Culhane was pleased with Erickson’s performance.
“His presence in the locker room is something we appreciate. He’s a great fit for our group,” said Culhane.
“That was big. A freshman, coming from what I remember at Minnesota, it definitely took a while to adjust to the speed and the physical part of the game. It was perfect timing for them tonight because it gave us a huge win,” Erickson said.
The Lawson Lunatics, as the student section at WMU is nicknamed, also got to witness the most exciting play in hockey as Bronco captain Pat Dwyer was rewarded with a penalty shot at 7:43 of the first period. Dwyer, though, was unable to convert after pushing the shot wide right.
Senior Jeff Legue put the Bulldogs on the board early. As a Bronco penalty expired, Legue let off a cannon, roofing it by Bellissimo with a textbook water-bottle shot to give Ferris a 1-0 lead and the momentum swing.
Ferris also showed patience early on the power play. At 11:28 in the first, Greg Rallo cashed in on a loose puck thrown in front by Matt York after sliding around the defensive wall, putting Ferris on the board again.
Ferris State (4-10-1) and Western Michigan (8-6-1) will head back to Big Rapids Saturday for the conclusion of the home-and-home series, where the Bulldogs will be looking for a bite of revenge.