KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Western Michigan Bronco senior winger Kevin LaBatte struck the game-winning goal in overtime to beat the Northern Michigan Wildcats, 3-2 at Lawson Ice Arena.
With 1:55 remaining in the overtime period, the native of Utah charged down the center of the ice, took a pass from the right wing from freshman Mark Letestu and smacked the winning goal into the empty Wildcat net. Freshman defenseman Tyler Ludwig was also awarded an assist.
“Letestu made an unbelievable play across the crease from me,” LaBatte said. “You have to make sure you put those pucks in the net when you get that opportunity to get the big win.”
After leading 2-0 entering the third period, the Broncos (5-5-1, overall and 4-5-1 CCHA) could not hold onto the two-goal lead, as the Wildcats fought back to push the game into the extra session.
At the 5:11 mark of the period, junior center Mike Santorelli broke free past the defense and fired a backhanded shot past the diving freshman goalie Riley Gill for a shorthanded goal. Defenseman Zach Tarkir was awarded the assist on the play.
Then minutes later, Matt Siddall found a charging winger Nathan Sigmund down the center of the ice, as Sigmund tied the game at 2 on the only NMU power-play goal of the night. Freshman T.J. Miller was also given an assist.
“I was very happy on the way we fought back tonight, and just happened to earn the overtime winning goal,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle.
After Gill stopped 21 Wildcat shots through the first two periods but couldn’t hold the lead in the third, head coach Jim Culhane was pleased with how his goalie was able to bounce back and earn the victory in overtime.
“I was interested to see how Riley would bounce back after being rattled for two third-period goals,” Culhane said. “The first time in his career, he has had to rebound after a disappointing period and forget the goals. I know he wanted to play better, and I was pleased how he played, and how his teammates played also.”
After giving up seven Wildcat goals on Friday night, Gill came back to block 30 shots in the victory on Saturday.
“The difference in the special-teams play tonight, I thought, was Gill. He played real well tonight, making big saves at key times,” said Kyle.
“I think we came out and played a full 60 minutes of hockey tonight, as opposed to last night we took a few shifts off,” LaBatte said. “We were a lot more disciplined, and didn’t take as many penalties as Friday night that hurt us.”
After going 0-9 on the power play on Friday night, the Broncos changed that quickly with a first-period goal at 19:11 by Jeff Pierce, who took the pass from the left side by senior Paul Szczechura in front of the net and lit the lamp for the first goal of the game. Letestu added the assist on the play, adding to his team-leading point total.
Adding to their lead, halfway through the second period, Letestu stole the puck on the left side of the net, and slipped it between the pipes for the second Bronco goal.
“Mark continues to play well for us so far this year,” Culhane said. “He is continuing to understand what it takes to be a successful player in the CCHA, and he is a great addition to our team.”
After an offensive showing from the Wildcats on Friday night both coaches came into Saturday expecting a tighter defensive game.
“Tonight was a little of what both coaches expected,” Culhane said. “Walt [Kyle] and I sat down to a cup of coffee before the game, and discussed the scoring chances that we missed last night, and how they executed on their opportunities. I am real pleased for us as a team to come through here in overtime tonight with the victory.”
Wildcat goalie, senior Bill Zaniboni stopped 26 shots in the game on 29 Bronco shots, 10 in the third period when his Wildcats overcame a two-goal deficit.
The Wildcats drop to a 7-6-2, overall record and 4-3-1 in the CCHA, welcoming a Thanksgiving break to regroup and make adjustments before traveling to Lake Superior State on Dec. 1, with a faceoff time of 7:35.
“We are right now a mid-pack team,” Kyle said of his Wildcats. “I think you have to be able to string some wins together to move out of that area.”
The Broncos will celebrate the win before getting ready for their fourth match of the early season with the Ferris State Bulldogs on Nov. 21 in Big Rapids.
“We know they have great goaltending, tremendous team speed and present us with a huge challenge for us up there, being a tough place to play,” Culhane said.