KALAMAZOO, Mich. — With the help of three second-period goals, the Western Michigan Broncos (10-13-1, 9-10-1 CCHA) boosted themselves over the Ferris State Bulldogs with a 5-2 win in this matchup of CCHA foes.
“I think it really began to turn in our favor in the second period,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “The first period was pretty even, though we led 2-1, but in the second we were able to capitalize on some scoring chances.”
With both teams facing the challenge of playing on short rest after last weekend’s doubleheader of games, the first five minutes of the game looked like legs were tired and both teams were a little sluggish.
But right after the Broncos’ Steve Silver was whistled for tripping, putting the Bulldogs on the power play at the 4:33 mark of the opening stanza, defenseman Matt Case flicked a shot from a top the right-wing circle, deflecting off right winger Matt Verdone past Bronco netminder Daniel Bellissimo for the opening goal of the game. Defenseman Joe Van Culin gave the pass to Case on the wing, earning an assist as well.
“We had been through some pretty emotional, intense, physical games over the last two weekends against Miami and Notre Dame, and I was really concerned with how the guys were physically as well as mentally,” Culhane said. “We have expended a lot of energy over the last few games.”
Just two minutes later on a Broncos power play, senior center Paul Szczechura looped around the Bulldog defense, and took the pass from junior Brian Bicek in front of FSU goalie Mitch O’Keefe, knocking the puck into the net off the skate of the Bulldog netminder.
“I tried to hit Brian Bicek back door there, and he just made a move and gave it back to me,” Szczechura said. “It hit a couple things, but I guess that’s how they are going to come when you’re struggling a bit.”
After several minutes of hard-fought hockey, and a couple of power-play opportunities being knocked off by both teams, with the score knotted at 1 apiece, Bronco freshman Mark Letestu charged the backside of the net and found a rebound opportunity from a Matt Clackson shot, which distracted the Bulldog goalie, leaving the back door open for Letestu to pound the rebound into the back of the net, putting his Broncos ahead 2-1 heading into the first intermission. Left-winger Jeff LoVecchio started the play as he moved the puck through the Bulldog zone, leaving it off to Clackson.
Though entering the middle period with a one-goal advantage, the Broncos were only able to fire four shots at O’Keefe to the Bulldogs’ nine shots on the Bronco netminder.
“We have to be able to get more pucks shot at the net,” Letestu said. “For the game, we had 15 total shots and five goals. Getting more pucks thrown at the net, more goals will come; I think it’s real important for this team to shoot the puck.”
Entering the second period on the power play for the first 1:46 of the period, FSU was unable to even the scoring with the man advantage, as the Broncos got senior co-captain and defenseman Ryan Mahrle back on the ice still clinging to their one-goal lead.
Not long after, at the 4:17 mark of the period, Letestu hammered the puck deep into the Bulldog zone down the right wing, dropping a pass backwards to sophomore Patrick Galivan, who was waiting on the pass inside the right circle as Galivan blasted the puck across the ice to the charging LoVecchio, who then drove the third Bronco goal of the night into the back of the net.
The Broncos didn’t waste much time after that, as Bicek added the fourth goal of the night and second of the middle period on a breakaway try. As defenseman Chris Frank was able to capture the puck to restart the offensive charge, he sent the puck to center ice where Bicek picked it up. taking it down the right wing and shooting it past the reaching O’Keefe.
“Obviously, I think we were due for the big game tonight, not getting any goals against Notre Dame,” Letestu said. “It’s something we really wanted to focus on. We’ve been pretty inconsistent lately, coming off playing ranked opponents, and I think it was really important for us to solidify an identity as a team that’s not going to waiver and were going to pick up wins against non-ranked opponents as well.”
After seeing him team give up four goals on just seven shots through the halfway point in the second period, FSU head coach Bob Daniels made the netminder change of junior Derek MacIntyre for the struggling O’Keefe at the 8:31 mark.
“I was a little concerned, I thought our goaltending could’ve been a lot better, after giving up four goals on seven shots,” Daniels said. “But overall, I thought we played a pretty good game. Western deserves the credit for capitalizing on their chances.”
With just :10 remaining in the second period and WMU leading 4-1, Szczechura slid a pass from the blue line across the ice to the left wing, where Letestu was able to chime in again for his second goal of the contest, putting WMU up 5-1 heading into the final period of play.
“We got those three goals in the second to build that 5-1 cushion, and that time you’re still not sure of where the game can go because of the way they play and get after you,” Culhane said. “I was still not comfortable on the bench because they are such a very difficult team to prepare for and play against.”
With back-and-forth play throughout the third period, and many more penalties creating power-play chances for both sides, FSU added a second goal to its total late on the power play, starting on a pass from Brendan Connolly to Case, who flipped a shot through the air and past Bellissimo, who stopped 26 Bulldog shots on the night to improve to 4-8 on the year.
The Bulldogs hit the road again this weekend, Jan. 26 and 27 traveling to Ann Arbor for a double-header with the Wolverines, as the Broncos continue the luxury of their eight-game homestand for two more games this weekend against non-conference opponent Alabama-Huntsville.
“It was a big victory for us because of the non-conference games this weekend,” Culhane said. “I wouldn’t call it a must-win tonight, but we knew it was going to big for us to get the points. We want to try our best and get points each and every time we play.”
FSU will take the ice at Yost Arena with an 8:05 p.m. face off Jan. 26, with the puck dropping in Lawson at 7:35 p.m. Friday night.