KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Playoff hockey is just around the corner and the crowd of 2,712 fans in Lawson Ice Arena caught a peek of it friday night, as the Western Michigan Broncos (6-16-3, 6-11-2 CCHA) defeated the Wildcats of Northern Michigan (14-12-1, 10-10-1) by the score of 4-2.
“Both teams played hard. We executed on penalty killing, special teams are a big part of the game,” Bronco head coach Jim Culhane said.
Brian Bicek started the scoring just 3:18 into the game when he beat Wildcat netminder Bill Zaniboni low on the stick side after a scramble out in front of the net. The goal was Bicek’s first of the year. Mike Lesperance and Ryan Mahrle picked up the assists on the goal.
Northern Michigan didn’t answer until the second period when Darin Olver broke in shorthanded and beat Bronco goalie Daniel Bellissimo over his right shoulder.
Brent Walton put the Broncos up, 2-1, halfway through the second period, when he received a cross-crease pass from Paul Szczechura and beat a sliding Zaniboni over his outstretched pad. The goal was Walton’s 19th of the campaign. Daryl Moore was also given an assist.
“(Walton) is a very good player. The kid is a goal scorer. We need to be aware of him at all times,” Wildcat head coach Walt Kyle said.
At 7:12 of the third Zach Tarkir was called for obstruction-tripping, and the penalty proved to be costly as defensemen Nathan Ansell put the Broncos up for good. Mike Lesperance dug the puck out of the corner and flipped it to Reid Yantzi. He slid a pass over to Ansell who blasted a one timer from the top of the circle.
Tarkir then brought his team closer when he blasted an unassisted goal from the blue line and beat Bellissimo high.
The Broncos put the game out of reach when Paul Szczechura fought through two Wildcat defensemen and shuffled the puck to Jeff LoVecchio. He put the puck in the empty net, giving the Broncos a 4-2 win.
“(Western) played hard. They played a great game. You have to give them a lot of credit,” Kyle said.
Northern Michigan pulled Zaniboni at two different points in the last minute of the game, but the Broncos protected their lead. Freshman forward Matt Clackson was one of the Broncos on the ice preserving the win at the end.
“He (Clackson) is a big kid and he plays the game with a lot of confidence,” Culhane said, “He is the type of kid to get in their work hard and block a shot.”
The Broncos finished with 30 shots on goal with Zaniboni making 27 saves and the Wildcats had 24 giving Bellissimo a total of 22 saves on the evening.
The Broncos finished 1-for-7 on the power play, while Northern finished 0-for-7.
The Broncos and Wildcats will hook up for the rematch tomorrow starting at 4:30 p.m. at Lawson Ice Arena.