KALAMAZOO, Mich. — For the second game in a row, the Western Michigan Broncos (9-12-1, Overall and 8-9-1, CCHA) were able to capture another victory over the number three ranked Notre Dame Irish, 4 -3 Friday night in the always intense Lawson Ice Arena.
“It was a well played game by both teams,” said Jim Culhane, WMU Head Coach. “It was a real gritty, tenacious effort by two good teams. I thought we did a nice job winning a lot of battles, getting pucks deep into the zone and clearing pucks out of the zone, creating many offensive chances for our team.”
After earning a sweep last weekend against the Miami RedHawks, who was then ranked number six in the country, the Broncos started off where they ended last weekend punching in the first goal of the game at the 7:17 mark of the opening period on a Patrick Galivan goal, his fourth of the season.
With the puck being knocked off the skate on a pass from senior Paul Szczechura deep on the right side of the Irish defense, Galivan was able to punch the puck past the Irish’s netminder David Brown. Sophomore Jeff LoVecchio also was awarded an assist.
Minutes later, Notre Dame,(19-5-1, Overall and 13-3-1, CCHA) went on the first power play of the game at the 12:49 point of the period, their first of nine special team opportunities. Coming into the game the Fighting Irish were ranked fourth on the power play at 20 percent, as WMU held them to just one eventual power play goal on the night.
“That was the key for us tonight, getting those kills on the power play,” Culhane said. “I think our best penalty killer in the game was our goaltender. Dan [Bellissimo] just played great for us tonight, making big saves at crucial points in the game.”
Though they were held to just one goal on the power play in the game, the Fighting Irish were able to fire 31 shots at the Bronco goalie, seven of which came on special teams.
“The defense was great against tonight, just as they were against Miami,” Bellissimo said. “They were good at clearing out pucks, shutting down rebound opportunities and getting guys out of the way for me to see more pucks.”
Heading into the second period with the one goal advantage on the top ranked team in the CCHA, the Broncos were able to capitalize on a short handed goal by LoVecchio. The co-captain received the puck at center ice from senior center Jason Moul and raced his way past the Irish defense, as he flicked the puck past Brown, giving his Broncos the two goal advantage.
Brown coming into the game had a goal against average of 1.76, which was good for second in the NCAA made 16 saves on the 19 Bronco shots of the night.
Being out shot throughout the game, and still finding the way to win is something WMU has now done twice this season, as they did against Michigan earlier this season.
“It’s quite frustrating to tell you the truth,” said junior Jeff Pierce. “We knew coming in that they are very stingy on the defensive front. The system of defense they play is very defensive oriented, and we just continued to play, battling hard, and made the shots we did get count.”
With only three called penalties in the first period, penalties were at a high count in the second as nine penalties were given out. Notre Dame was 0-5 in the period, as WMU was 0-2 in the halfway period.
Down 2-0, to begin the final period of play the Fighting Irish though leading in shots on goal 24-10 and power play opportunities were not doing the things they talked about in the beginning to be successful tonight, Notre Dame Head Coach Jeff Jackson said.
“We told our players to make sure we were doing the things we had talked about to be successful,” he said. “I thought we needed to get to net better, paying the price in the net area as I don’t think we did that through the first two periods. I just thought we needed to elevate our intensity more in around the net.”
The Irish did just that as they were able to light the red lamp for the first time on the night on senior Brett John’s interference penalty for WMU. At the top of the point, freshman defenseman Kyle Lawson found the back of the net for the third time this season as he fired his shot through the top left corner past Bellissimo. Fellow Defenseman Noah Babin and winger Ryan Thang contributed on the Irish goal.
At the 7:03 mark of the final period, the Broncos went on the power play for the third time on the night. Just seconds later, left-winger took the pass from Mark Van Guilder and Babin, alongside the right wing, as he was able to flip in the game tying, short-handed goal at the 7:49 point of the third.
“You just have to forget about the goals you give up and move on,” Bellissimo said. “It’s a 2-2 game, and the team is still in it, you just have to keep battling hard and pull out the win.”
Chances after chances went by for both teams in the next several minutes, as both net minders seemed to settle in to the intensity, ecstatic crowd that was behind them as always in Lawson Ice Arena.
“It was great goaltending on both sides during the final stretch of the game,” Jackson said. “That’s what makes it a good game, even without a lot of goal scoring; there was still that great flow and tempo to the game.”
As to playing under such a loud, crazy environment as Lawson is, because of the ‘Lawson Lunatics’ Jackson said its just something we have to learn to play under these types of crowds, that is what makes college hockey what it is.
On a face off clean by freshman center and Bronco goal leader Mark Letestu, Letestu was able to slide the puck to defenseman Nathan Ansell, who exploded a shot right inside the blue line at the Irish goalie as he knocked the shot down to the ice, just as Pierce was able to come in and swoop the puck around the left side of Brown for the game-winning goal.
“The goal was just, ‘a little luck of the Irish,’ I guess,” Pierce said. “Mark was able to win the battle and get out to Ansell, who put the shot on it and no one took me, and I just put it in the back of the net.”
After giving up the two goal advantage, like the Broncos did, Culhane said they showed a little maturity tonight something they still need to improve on but it was a step forward in the right direction.
“We had been talking abut how we need to handle those situations better as a team,” the eighth year coach said. “We have talked endlessly as a team about those different situations happening in the game. The guys noticed it right away on the bench; it was great communication about staying focus and composed throughout the final stretches of the game.”
Building on the current two game winning streak, WMU finds themselves on the Broncos and the Fighting Irish will be back at again for the second game of the series, Saturday night.
“We will enjoy this here tonight as a group, the staff will look at the film a couple of times and look to see what type of adjustments we can make for tomorrow night,” Culhane said.”
Face off for Saturday night is slated for 7:35 once again.