DETROIT — With the temperature inside the Michigan State Fairgrounds hovering around freezing last night, it took the Wayne State and Robert Morris offenses two periods to thaw out.
After a scoreless opening 40 minutes, Dan Iliakis broke a 1-all tie at 7:34 of the third as WSU skated past the Colonials, 2-1, for its first sweep of a CHA series since Feb. 28-29, 2004.
“It wasn’t pretty at the end,” said WSU head coach Bill Wilkinson. “We ran around a little trying to preserve the win. But, a little luck, a post, and a couple saves by (Brett) Bothwell sealed the deal. “It’s good to get two more points.”
The win was only Wayne State’s second in 17 games when scoring less than five goals. While the Warriors seem more comfortable in tight-checking contests seemingly a staple of this year’s team the efforts hadn’t translated into success.
But WSU (7-17-0, 3-7-0 CHA) has won two games in a row for the first time all season and three of its past four, with a pair of victories earned via the grind-it-out fashion.
Bothwell, a freshman, started for the fourth straight game after rotating with senior Will Hooper during the season’s first half. He stopped 25 RMU shots in his sixth win of the season.
“The second game of the weekend is always tough,” Bothwell said. “Last night, I thought I struggled a bit, but the ‘D’ played well and bailed me out. I knew I was going to have to come back with a strong performance.”
WSU’s Jason Baclig broke the ice no pun intended with a wraparound effort at 1:56 of the third.
The Colonials tied the game just 41 seconds later as Aaron Clark followed his own shot on the rush and deposited the rebound past Bothwell.
“We played hard,” said RMU head coach Derek Schooley, “but a loss is a loss is a loss. We’re still going back on the bus with two losses.”
RMU’s Joe Tuset, a Northern Michigan transfer, started for the fourth time in five games after veteran Christian Boucher was yanked after allowing five goals last night.
“Joe has played very well,” said Schooley, who added that he hasn’t made a decision on a regular starter for the rest of the year. “I’m going to go with the hot guy.”
Tuset made 27 saves in the loss.
Robert Morris (8-13-1, 5-7-0 CHA) has a non-conference road game at Princeton next Monday before hosting Niagara and CHA-leading Bemidji State on back-to-back weekends.
“We just gave up our two games in hand that we had on everybody,” Schooley said, “and that puts us in a hole. We’re battling to hold on to the three spot; with Wayne State creeping up and (Alabama) Huntsville right behind…we’re not in a good situation right now.”
Wayne State, with momentum for possibly the first time all season, heads to No. 20 Niagara this weekend for a two-game set.
“It’s a big confidence boost for us,” said Wilkinson about the sweep. “We’re starting to do it at the right time. We’re trying to get out of the bottom of the pile and climb the ladder as best we can.”