KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Behind freshman Riley Gill’s shutout performance and the team’s five goals scored, the Western Michigan Broncos (11-13-1 Overall and 9-10-1 CCHA) hammered non-conference foe Alabama-Huntsville, 5-0 Friday night.
“It was just a great effort for the guys tonight,” said Jim Culhane, WMU head coach. “With Riley getting the shutout, the defense playing very well in front
of him, killing some penalties and guys contributing offensively, it was a great win.”
In what started as a heavyweight battle in the opening period, both teams played hard and getting some chances to open the scoring up, but with great saves by Gill and senior Charger net minder Marc Narduzzi the teams skated to a scoreless first period.
“The first couple minutes were big for me, getting a couple saves under my belt fast, getting comfortable back there and getting into the flow of the game,” Gill said.
The chances in the opening period began quickly as the Broncos Matt Clackson was whistled for roughing, giving the Chargers the first power play opportunity at the 2:17 mark. In the first period, each team went 0-1 on the power play.
The scoreless first period was just what Culhane was expecting the game would begin through watching film and knowing very little of their non-conference opponent.
“It was just sort of a feeling out process,” the eight-year Bronco head coach said. “Since we don’t know a whole lot about our opponent, it was really just like a heavyweight battle, just jabbing away at each other to see what the other one is all about.”
Beginning the second period with a man advantage, because of a Chris Frank interference penalty, happening late in the opening stanza, UAH was unable unlock the scoreless game.
After a nice save by Narduzzi stopping defenseman Nathan Ansell’s bullet alongside the right-wing through the Charger zone, the Broncos lit the red lamp for the first goal of the game on senior co-captain Ryan Mahrle’s deflection goal from right-wing corner, and into the net at the 9:33 point in the middle period. Dave Krisky and Chris Clackson were handed the assists on the goal.
Only :16 seconds later, junior Brian Bicek found fellow junior Jeff Pierce from center ice as he knifed a pass underneath the sticks of the Charger’s defense, finding Pierce deep along the left-wing for Pierce’s first of two goals in the contest.
“It was a really nice pass by Bicek, going through a couple guys’ sticks and right on tape, I just knew that’s where it was going, if it went in it went in, and if he [Narduzzi] saved, he saved it, I just got kind of lucky,” Pierce said.
Holding onto the two goal lead at about the midpoint in the second period, the Broncos weren’t done on the offensive end yet. Ansell dropped a pass near the goal line of the UAH zone, to senior Paul Szczechura distracted the attention of the UAH’s net minder to the right wing side, just enough to send a rocket through the middle of the Charger defense, finding the charging Pierce along the left wing, who pounded home his second goal of the night into the backside of the open net.
“As the game progressed through the second period, we were able to get our legs underneath us, make some plays and get some timely goals,” Culhane said.
Adding a fourth Bronco goal of the middle period was Szczechura, who took a Bicek pass at the top of the point, and firing another rocket through the heart of the Charger defense and Narduzzi’s glove, putting his Broncos comfortably ahead 4-0. Sophomore Steve Silver also was given an assist on the play.
The four goals in the middle period marked the first time since Oct. 29, 2004 against the then ranked number 13 Ohio State Buckeyes in the third period in what was a 6-3 Bronco victory, that WMU accomplished such a feat.
“We played really sound all night, we just made a couple mistakes,” Pierce said, who won first star honors in the game. “Gillard [Gill] stood on his head for us tonight and made some fantastic saves, he had a couple breakaways and odd man rushes against him, but Gillard’s just being Gillard.”
To begin the third period, the Chargers pulled the senior net minder Narduzzi for freshman Blake MacNicol, making his first appearance of the season.
“We just made some mental mistakes in that second period,” said Lance West, UAH assistant head coach. “They used their speed and skill and just took advantage of the opportunities they had.
WMU was able to pad their goal total of the night one more time in the third period on senior Jason Moul’s second goal of the season at the 5:56 mark of the final period. Moul, after being upended just seconds prior, looped around the back of the net while Mahrle bounced the puck around the Charger zone.
Mahrle, then dropped the puck to Bicek, who eventually found Moul on a pass to inside the left circle, where he was able to flick a top-shelf winner past the freshman net minder. The assist for Bicek was his third point of the contest, taking his season point total to 20.
After only getting off 15 shots against Ferris State on Jan 23, the Broncos were able to outshoot the Chargers in the game tonight 32-26, with Narduzzi stopping 25 shots and MacNicol getting credited with two saves.
“I think we came in tonight, trying to focus getting more shots on the net,” Bicek said. “The last few previous games, we’ve only been averaging about 20-25 shots per game.”
With two wins in a row now UAH (7-15-1 Overall and 4-8 CHA) and WMU will stay in Kalamazoo for one more battle Saturday night with a face off time of 7:35.
“We can’t panic too much after tonight,” West said. “We played well at times, we just need to get everybody going strong at the same time, instead of only playing 40 minutes of the game.”
The Broncos will look to come in Saturday night to complete the non-conference sweep and get their third victory in a row, heading into next weekend’s home and home series with the Michigan Wolverines.
“A couple wins under your belt, puts confidence in your team and players,” Pierce said. “We have students and more people coming out to our games and the atmosphere is just overall good. A win tomorrow night will definitely be a confidence booster for us heading into Michigan next weekend.”