KALAMAZOO, Mich. — In front of 3,046 Saturday night at Lawson Ice Arena, the Western Michigan Broncos used three third-period goals to knock off the sixth-ranked Miami RedHawks, 5-3.
“It’s such an amazing place to play, I can’t say enough about our student section — the Lawson Lunatics,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “The energy and enthusiasm in the building that they created, and the image they’ve built that we are so proud of at WMU. We use their enthusiasm and excitement endlessly in recruiting.”
Over the last several years, Lawson Ice Arena has been dangerous for the top 10 teams in the country to play in. Earlier this year, the Broncos defeated then-No. 3 Michigan State on home ice.
“They [the Lunatics] are the reason why we are so successful against those top-ranked teams here,” Culhane said.
In a first period which featured six penalties combined for both teams, only Miami punched in a goal, that off the stick of junior Nathan Davis, who went back-door on a rebound opportunity against Bronco goalie Daniel Bellissimo. Miami captain Ryan Jones and defenseman Alec Martinez were given the assists on the first goal of the night.
“They are a great power-play team, one of the best in the league,” said Bellissimo, the junior netminder for the Broncos, who stopped 25 RedHawk shots. “They got some good bounces which weren’t the result of someone making a mistake, just good bounces to go their way.”
Miami led WMU in shots on goal after one, 11-5, as the Broncos struggled getting the puck past RedHawk goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who stopped 22 shots.
“One thing that we have struggled with all year, is coming to play the whole 60 minutes of the game,” Bellissimo said. “We need to come out sharp and not dig ourselves in a hole next weekend.”
At the 8:10 mark of the middle period, freshman Mark Letestu got the Broncos rolling with their first goal. Sophomores Dave Krisky and Matt Clackson got the assists.
After great saves by both Bellissimo and Zatkoff on one-on-one chances, Miami regained the lead at 14:02 on a shot by Jarod Palmer that bounced off Bellissimo’s leg right to a charging Marty Guerin, who fired the shot past the Bronco goalie for the second RedHawk power-play goal of the night.
Wasting no time before the end of the second period, WMU evened the score once again, tying it at two on co-captain Jeff LoVecchio’s goal. His shot skidded off the right leg of Zatkoff from the right corner on a pass from fellow co-captain Ryan Mahrle. Paul Szczechura was awarded an assist on the play as well.
At the 4:01 mark of the third period, LoVecchio took a high Chris Frank on the right side, and slid his second goal of the night under Zatkoff’s leg.
“Both goals of mine were pretty much lucky,” LoVecchio said. “The second one, the puck flipped up in the air off Chris [Frank's] shot, and I saw the goalie’s head and he didn’t know where it was, and I just batted into the net from mid-air.”
Trailing for the first time with more than 10 minutes remaining in the contest, the RedHawks found the back of the net on their third power-play goal of the match. Sophomore Brian Kaufman evened the score at three at the 6:25 point from a Jones pass, getting his second assist of the night along with Mitch Ganzak breaking into the scoring column for Miami.
“They are a really good hockey team, very dynamic and creative on the power play,” Culhane said.
The turning point came on a Kevin Roeder hit from behind on Bronco senior Kevin LaBatte, deep in the Miami zone at the 13:30 mark of the final period. For the hit, Roeder received a major penalty and a game misconduct.
Soon thereafter, as LoVecchio was knifing through the ‘Hawk defense, he was pulled down from behind by Palmer, giving the Broncos a two-man advantage. The Broncos took advantage of the Miami penalties on a Jeff Pierce game-winning goal on a pass from Letestu and Tyler Ludwig.
“It was a good victory and a solid team effort by everyone tonight,” Culhane said. “People that saw the games this weekend both of them proved to be very entertaining and competitive.”
Letestu again added his second goal and third point of the match, sealing the victory for his Broncos with an empty-net goal with two seconds remaining.
The RedHawks will face Ohio State in a home-and-home series next weekend, while the Broncos will play host to first-place Notre Dame.
“I think next weekend this emotion will carry into next Friday’s night game against ND and will help us throughout the rest of the season,” Pierce said.