ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Friday night’s matchup between No. 4 Michigan and Western Michigan featured two of the top goal-scorers in the CCHA, Michigan’s T.J. Hensick and Western Michigan’s Brent Walton, and promised to be a high-scoring affair.
Hensick notched back-to-back goals while Walton totaled a goal and an assist, but it was Hensick’s Wolverines who outlasted the Broncos 6-4 with the help of a late David Moss power-play goal.
Michigan earned two-goal leads in both the second and third periods, only to give them away just a few minutes later. The game was filled with penalties, and both teams took advantage of their power-play opportunities. Western Michigan was three-for-six with the man-advantage and Michigan scored on two of its seven chances.
Entering the third period with a 4-3 lead, Michigan’s Jeff Tambellini scored the eventual game winner just 5:05 into the last stanza. Tambellini collected the puck at center ice and rushed past a Bronco defender up the left side. As he neared the red line, Tambellini let go of an extreme angle shot that crossed and beat Western Michigan goalie Daniel Bellissimo low to the glove side.
Tambellini tied a career-high with two goals and one assist for three points on the night and was named first star of the game.
Western Michigan answered with only 9:10 to play with a beautiful goal Ryan Mahrle. The sophomore defenseman took advantage of Michigan captain Eric Nystrom while he was without his stick to circle to the right slot and beat goalie Al Montoya with a wrist shot just inside the top of the right post. Mahrle added two assists for a three-point game.
With a 5-4 lead and just 3:13 left to play, the Wolverines took advantage of a late power play to put the Broncos away. After several cycles around the Western Michigan defense, Nystrom managed a pass from behind the net to Moss in front of the net. Moss managed one whack at the puck through two Bronco defenders and slid the insurance goal below Bellissimo’s pad.
“It was a game of special teams,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “(There were) maybe too many penalties. We found a way to get through it. We battled back and got the goals we needed to get.”
Michigan was forced to battle back as the Broncos came into the game with almost three weeks off and jumped to an early 1-0 lead. Paul Szczechura took advantage of a failed clear by Michigan defenseman Tim Cook.
Szczechura controlled the loose puck at the right circle, shook off another defenseman and beat Montoya on the short side.
“I was very pleased with our energy early in the game,” Western Michigan head coach Jim Culhane said. “I liked the energy level of both teams. I think it was a very exciting game played by both teams. The fans tonight sure got their value.”
Hensick tied the score with the first of his two goals with just 2:40 left to play in the first.
The sophomore forward, fresh back from the World Junior Championships, was set up by on the doorstep by linemate Milan Gajic. The senior right winger dug the puck out from the boards behind the net and slipped a quick backhand pass across the crease. Hensick paused with the puck before depositing it in the mostly empty net.
Hensick then opened the scoring in the second period with a power-play goal. Hensick pounced on a loose puck on the left boards, circled quickly into the left slot and fired a wrister past Bellissimo. Hensick, named the CCHA’s player of the month for December, maintained his torrid scoring pace. He has now scored in five straight games and recorded his eighth multi-goal game this season.
“He’s a special player and you can see why he means so much to our team,” Berenson said. “When we’re getting shots and chances, it seems like it takes someone like T.J. to put the puck in the net.”
In a seven-minute stretch midway through the second period, both teams added two goals apiece to bring the score to 4-3.
Mahrle helped Western Michigan tie the game at two with a point shot that was deflected by junior forward Mike Erickson for a power-play goal.
37 seconds later, Tambellini responded with his first goal of the night. He received the puck at the right point after a faceoff and fired a low wrist shot that somehow beat Bellissimo wide to the left.
A little over two minutes later, Michigan forward Jason Ryznar collected the puck off the left boards and found a streaking Gajic in the slot. Gajic faked once to his backhand, then fired a forehand over Bellissimo’s glove into the top right corner of the net.
Less than three minutes later, at the 13:40 mark, Walton finally got on the board with a power-play goal. His shot from the left point seemed to fool Montoya, who was screened on the play.
Michigan headed into the third period holding on to the one-goal lead, and improved to 12-0-0 this season when leading after the second frame. For Western Michigan, the loss was its 14th straight at Yost Ice Arena.
“As disappointed as we are as a program with the loss, there are a lot of positives we can take out of this game,” Culhane said.
The two teams will head to Kalamazoo to play the second game of this series Saturday night at Lawson Arena at 7:35.