EAST LANSING, Mich. — With 4:09 left to play, Broncos sniper Brent Walton found the equalizer in a 3-3 tie between Western Michigan and No. 13 Michigan State.
Walton’s goal was the result of a heroic individual effort, as he shed defenseman Jared Nightingale and roofed a no-doubter on Spartans goaltender Jeff Lerg.
His play was also the result of a sloppy Michigan State turnover at center ice.
“This is a tough stretch for us. We’re finding ways to turn wins into ties and losses,” said Spartans head coach Rick Comley.
While Walton and the Broncos capitalized on their chances, it was a game of missed opportunities for Michigan State. The Spartans had a handful of grade-A scoring chances late in the third period and in overtime, including a power play late that carried over for more than a minute of the extra session.
“Tonight, we got back to a lot of the things we do well. We worked really hard, and the puck was at their goal line for just long, long times, whole shifts,” said Comley.
Despite Michigan State’s dominance as the game wore down, Daniel Bellissimo and the Broncos refused to surrender a goal.
“[W]e just couldn’t get it by the goaltender,” said Comley. “The puck was all around the net and it just won’t go in right now, so we’ve got to fight through it.”
“Dan played extremely well, especially some of the saves that he made late in the game. I thought he was very solid, very focused he did a great job for the Broncos,” said Western Michigan coach Jim Culhane.
Bellissimo finished with 28 saves on 31 shots in the tie.
Even video replay couldn’t push the puck across the goal line, as the Spartans were sure they had scored the game winner in the final minute of regulation.
“We didn’t say much [on the bench during the goal review],” said Culhane. “The technology is there and if it’s in it’s in and if not then great. I’m glad we have it in the conference and we have used it in our building on [several] occasions.”
While Michigan State could not finish, Western seemed to bury all of its chances.
Walton’s goal marked the third time the opportunistic Broncos jumped all over a Spartans miscue.
Western Michigan leapt out of the gates to an early 2-0 lead on Michigan State’s sloppy play. Jeff Pierce opened the scoring on a breakaway, the result of a botched Spartans three-on-one and a great homerun pass from Paul Szczechura.
Western Michigan built its lead on the power play. This time the Broncos took advantage of a momentary lapse in net by Jeff Lerg as Mike Erickson’s harmless slapshot tipped off the freshman goalie’s stick and up over his shoulder for a 2-0 score.
“With our young club, scoring the first two goals helped us to settle down a little bit. For us to get some momentum in the game was needed. I’m glad we got the good start; that was the game within the game tonight that helped us to get the tie,” said Culhane.
After being down 2-0, Michigan State charged back to take a 3-2 lead largely due to the play of its line of Drew Miller, Chris Mueller, and Colton Fretter. The trio picked up all three Spartan tallies.
The Spartans cut the deficit to one goal in the first period before heading to the locker room with Mueller knocking home his own rebound on the power play to make it a 2-1 game.
Michigan State’s momentum carried over into the second frame as Mueller tallied his second of the night to tie things up. Just 19 seconds into the frame, the sophomore center beat Bellissimo with a near-perfect shot on a ridiculous angle at the bottom of the left circle.
Colton Fretter gave the Spartans their first lead at 16:20 of the second period, slipping his own rebound under Bellissimo after hitting the crossbar with the initial shot.
After scoring three consecutive goals, it seemed at if Michigan State had the game in hand, but Walton’s terrific play on the turnover at center ice stole a point for the Broncos.
Both teams look forward to tomorrow’s rematch at Lawson Arena.