OXFORD, Ohio — For the No. 3 Miami RedHawks (17-4-4, 14-3-2 CCHA), they needed the whole 60 minutes to come from behind and beat the Western Michigan Broncos (5-16-3, 5-11-2 CCHA) in a night filled with 30 penalties and four power-play goals.
“We’re a team that preaches 60 minutes, and obviously tonight we took the whole 60 to win,” said RedHawk head coach Enrico Blasi.
The RedHawks came back from a 3-2 deficit to score two goals in 20 seconds and complete the sweep of the Broncos with a 4-3 win in a very physical series with the last place team in the CCHA.
“Every game you play in the CCHA, you know you’re in for a battle,” said RedHawk goalie Jeff Zatkoff.
In the first period it didn’t take long for the RedHawks to capitalize on the power play. The RedHawks scored their fourth-power play goal this weekend after Bronco Paul Szczechura was busted for hitting Ryan Jones from behind and was sent off with a game misconduct.
Less than a minute later, Andy Greene found Nathan Davis in front of the net to fire a wrist shot off of Daniel Bellissimo’s pads and into the net. The RedHawks would outshoot the Broncos 14-4 in the first period, but the one goal would be their only scoring going into the first intermission.
However, the story of the period was the tremendous amount of penalties that referee Dan Brown handed out to both teams. The RedHawks and Broncos combined for 12 penalties in the first period and brought an added intensity to their step Saturday night.
The second period would be no different as Brown sent Greene to the box just 32 seconds into the period. The RedHawks would also extend their lead later in the period when forward Taylor Hustead finally found the net for the first time in 16 games.
At the 4:30 mark, Hustead received a pass from Geoff Smith at the top of the right circle where he fired a wrist shot over the shoulder of Bellissimo.
However, a tripping penalty called on RedHawk Alec Martinez would allow the Broncos to sneak a goal past Zatkoff. At 13:30, the Broncos’ leading scorer, Brent Walton, pounced on a loose puck and tapped it past Zatkoff to make the score 2-1.
As the third period began, the Broncos came out attacking the durable RedHawk offense. The Broncos piled 13 shots on Zatkoff in the third period and two unanswered goals.
The first of the two goals came after a costly game misconduct penalty to RedHawk Brad Robbins that gave the Broncos a power play for five minutes.
At the 6:59 mark, Bronco forward Mike Lesperance fired a slap shot that Zatkoff blocked. Jeff LoVecchio pounced on the rebound to fire a wrist shot for the equalizer on the power play.
“We took some penalties and when you do that, you leave things to chance,” said Blasi.
The score would stay gridlocked for another ten minutes, but at the 16:22 mark the Broncos found another opportunity to sneak a goal past Zatkoff.
With both teams skating 4-on-4, Reid Yantzi fired a shot from the top of the right circle with Zatkoff screened, and the puck drop into the back of the net to give the Broncos a 3-2 lead.
“I saw the puck, but the guys converged and I lost sight of it,” said Zatkoff.
On the other side, the superb play of Bellissimo helped the Broncos keep the RedHawks from scoring. However, the RedHawks were not down and out yet.
“We’re not a team that’s gonna give up when we’re down,” said winger Marty Guerin.
As coach Blasi pulled Zatkoff with a 1:15 left in the game, Bronco defenseman Ryan Mahrle got the gate for a contact to the head high-sticking penalty. The next penalty would come just 12 seconds later when defenseman Chris Frank got busted for a cross checking penalty.
Blasi decided to gamble and keep Zatkoff on the bench to give the RedHawks a six-on-three advantage in hopes of tying the game.
“We needed to tie the game, and why not put everybody out there?” said Blasi.
The gamble paid off for the RedHawks because, at 19:38, defenseman Mitch Ganzak received a pass from Greene and fired a slap shot that Davis tapped in past Bellissimo for the equalizer in front of 2,850 screaming RedHawk fans.
With just 22 seconds left in regulation, the RedHawks were still fighting to win the game and, with a five-on-four advantage, they still had a chance.
“We were definitely thinking to get it in there and get some shots,” said Guerin. “You have to go for it all in a situation like that, and it paid off.”
The intensity the RedHawks brought certainly did pay off because, with just 1.5 seconds left in the game, Guerin one-timed the winning goal on a pass from Ganzak on an open net to seal the come-from-behind victory for the RedHawks.
“Awesome play by Ganzak and it was incredible,” said Guerin. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as excited for a goal as that one.”
The 4-3 win gave the RedHawks the series sweep and coach Blasi’s 121st career victory, which tied him for most all-time in RedHawk history. He credited his team’s win to their fortunate opportunities in the last minute.
“Tonight we were fortunate to hit the right couple of bounces,” said Blasi.
Next week, the RedHawks will travel to play the Ferris State Bulldogs in another CCHA showdown. The Broncos will be at home against Northern Michigan.