BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Western Michigan played the game of Survivor in the opening period Saturday night — but it was themselves they were playing against.
The Broncos faced a five-minute major penalty kill in the opening seconds of the game, a five on three penalty kill late in the period, a slew of odd-man rushes throughout the stanza, and a total of 17 BG shots on goal, yet amazingly skated into the locker room at the intermission with a 3-0 cushion against the Falcons. They went on to beat their adversaries, 5-0, at the BG Ice Arena on Saturday night.
With their backs to the wall throughout most of the opening period, the Broncos managed to tread water, then swing the momentum, taking advantage of Falcon penalties and defensive lapses. The result was a lead they would not relinquish.
“It’s not the way we wanted to start the game,” said Bronco coach Jim Culhane, “but I thought we did a great job of killing penalties. Our special teams were real solid.”
Culhane was pleased with the turnaround his Broncos had from just 24 hours ago.
“I’m happy to get a split,” said Culhane. “You’d like to get a sweep, but it was a good bounce back game by our team tonight.”
“We’re disappointed,” said BG coach Scott Paluch. “We wanted to feed off of last night. If you win the first night, you’ve got to earn the sweep, and our inability to score goals didn’t give us a chance to do that.”
“Our ineffectiveness on the power play caught up to us. Even at 3-0 … I thought we were in a position to get back into the game, but we just couldn’t get that spark offensively. It was a lot of chances, a lot of shots on goal, but we never capitalized.”
Freshman goaltender Riley Gill got the nod between the pipes. He was stellar in net stopping all 37 shots he faced, earning his second career shutout.
“It’s always nice to get a shutout,” said the freshman. “We needed this [win] to get our confidence back. We had a losing streak of five games, and now we’re back on the winning track.”
“He looked really composed in there,” said Culhane of his netminder. “He looked confident and relaxed. I’m happy for him, for [getting] the shutout.”
Senior Paul Szczechura had a big night as well. The Brantford, Ontario, native scored a pair of goals and added an assist to garner Perani Cup second-star honors. Szczechura’s first goal — a bank shot off BG goaltender Jimmy Spratt — gave the center his 100th career point in a Bronco uniform.
“I’ve been in a little slump lately,” remarked Szczechura. “It was nice to get out of that slump. So many great players at our school have gotten to that milestone. It’s an honor to be among all those guys.”
Western Michigan jumped out early, lighting the lamp three times in the opening period to take command of the game.
After Szczechura’s opening goal, Jeff Pierce added to Western’s lead at 12:31 on a power-play tally from just outside the crease.
Then, late in the period and skating two men down on a penalty kill, sophomore Jeff Lovecchio picked up a loose puck, skated in unmolested, and beat Spratt glove side for his eighth goal of the season.
Szczechura and Mark Lesestu were responsible for the Bronco goals in the second period; Szczechura’s a shorthanded marker, and Letestu’s a power-play goal.
The Broncos finished the night 2 of 9 on the power play, while Bowling Green ended the game 0 of 9.
The Broncos will host second-ranked Notre Dame next weekend at Lawson Arena, while the Falcons head west to take on Nebraska-Omaha.