KALAMAZOO, Mich. — With an overtime goal by senior Paul Szczechura, the Western Michigan Broncos (11-13-1 Overall) swept non-conference foe Alabama-Huntsville (7-15-1 Overall) Saturday night for a 6-5 victory Saturday night.
“I just thought I’m taking the puck to the net,” Szczechura said. “We had the power play there, I had a lot of speed coming down the wing and take it to the far post and was just going to see what happens. I beat the defenseman wide and made the move to the net, and fortunately for me it went in.”
Trailing 5-2 heading into that final period of play, UAH came out hungry, and determined at cutting into their three goal deficit.
“Our guys should be proud of their effort they gave tonight,” said Lance West, Chargers assistant head coach. “They worked hard, and did the job they had to, they should be proud of everything they did.”
The Chargers forced the extra session behind three strong third period goals, with the game-tying winner coming off the stick of senior David Nimmo with :16.5 remaining in the third period. Coming off a Bronco turnover deep in their own zone by defenseman Chris Frank, who shoveled the puck around the back of the net against the boards, UAH winger Brett McConnachie stopped the puck along the goal line, sending a pass across the ice to Nimmo who put it into the back of the net to beat Bronco junior Daniel Bellissimo.
“We had just had a turnover in the zone and they turned it up very fast,” said WMU co-captain Jeff LoVecchio. “Right away after we give up a goal, we always try to push to take the momentum right back into our favor.”
After falling to the host Broncos Friday night, 5-0 the Chargers showed much resiliency coming out in the opening set, as senior captain Grant Selinger lit the lamp for the first goal of the game, coming during an odd man rush against Bellissimo, taking the pass in front of the net from fellow line mate David Nimmo and McConnachie.
With their first power play chance of twelve on the night coming at the 10:44 mark of the first period, the Broncos were unable to capitalize on their 2:00 minute man advantage.
“I thought we had good jump there in the first,” said Jim Culhane, WMU head coach. “I thought we played a much better first period tonight than last night, though the score may not have been indicative of that, I thought we had great enthusiasm that helped us carry that over to the second.”
Though, unsuccessful on their first power play attempt WMU was not going to fail twice in the period, as freshman Kevin O’Connor moved the puck up to center ice, finding senior Jason Moul, who then found LoVecchio on the left-wing racing in on the breakaway opportunity faking left, then going right hitting the top right corner past Charger net minder Marc Narduzzi to even the score at one apiece.
Adding a second goal late in the opening period, on O’Connor’s interference penalty was senior Steve Canter who batted the puck out of mid-air and pushed it past the diving Bellissimo to give his Chargers a 2-1 advantage heading into the second period.
Just like they have done in the previous two games, first against Ferris State on Jan. 23, then last night against UAH, the Broncos used the second period to take full control and all the momentum in the game, knocking home four goals in the middle period.
“We started making plays with the puck,” Culhane said. “We concentrated very hard on getting pucks to the net in that period.”
The Broncos went on the power play at the 3:19 mark of the period when Patrick Galivan was tripped behind the net by Kevin Galerno, trying to clear the puck out of the zone.
WMU controlled the power play bouncing the puck around the Charger defense, until freshman defenseman sent a crisp pass from center ice to fellow freshman Mark Letestu in front of the net, who then got it over to LoVecchio on the left wing when the co-captain cashed in his second goal of the night evening the score once again, this time at two a piece.
About three minutes later, on yet another Bronco special team advantage, Ansell dropped the puck down to Galivan who sent a pass around to Szczechura inside the left circle, where he made a move to get around the Charger opponent Canter squaring himself in front of the net and flicking his first goal of the night past the UAH goalie.
“We had a couple goals in a row again, like last night,” LoVecchio said. “Any time that happens, it’s going to hurt their team morale.”
Through the middle of the second period, with the Broncos leading 3-2 the Bronco net minder turned away a Nimmo odd man rush try sending the shot off his pad, and into the right corner. Bellissimo, who stopped 10 Charger shots in the second period and had 34 saves throughout the game, improved his season record to 4-8.
“Dan [Bellissimo] played real well tonight for us,” Szczechura said. “He stood tall and stood his ground back there on some breakaway chances, and he really kept us in the game. It defiantly was a big confidence booster for him and for us.”
After a Josh Murray roughing penalty at the 12:56 point in the period, Letestu continued his stellar freshman season campaign as he punched in his 16th goal of the season on a pass from Szczechura and junior winger Brian Bicek giving WMU a 4-2 advantage.
With the Chargers facing a 10:00 minute misconduct penalty by Matt Sweazey, the Broncos saw themselves on the power play for the majority of the middle period.
The final goal of the second stanza came off the stick of junior Jeff Pierce for his third goal in the two-game series. With the puck bouncing around the Charger zone, Szczechura took a Ludwig pass from the right-wing circle, sharp shooting a shot off to Pierce who was at the corner of the left side of the net, who then put home the Broncos fourth goal of the middle set and a 5-2 advantage, heading into the final period of play.
In the third period, Dominik Rozman helped the Chargers capitalize on their power play chance to in the early portion of the final period on his deflection goal at the 3:37 mark, giving his Chargers hope for a comeback. Defenseman Scott Kalinchuck took a Brandon Roshko pass inside the blue line of the Bronco zone firing a bullet through the defense, which then deflected off Rozman landing in the back of the net.
Selinger, then about four minutes was able to get his second goal of the contest, giving his UAH team a real chance at completing the comeback cutting the WMU lead to 5-4 with 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
“The big thing that I am happy with, regardless of them getting the three goals in the final period is that, giving them full credit, and our hats off to them they earned those goals,” Culhane said. “I think we showed a lot of mental toughness coming back and winning the game in overtime.”
After firing a season-high 43 shots at the Chargers’ Narduzzi, the Broncos will take their first sweep of the season heading into next weekend’s conference battle in a home and home series against the Michigan Wolverines.
“We will take the positives from the weekend, heading into next weekend,”
LoVecchio said. “We got the sweep and played real well. Hopefully, we get a big turnout Friday night against Michigan because that helps us, the more people the better we play.”
After completing the month of January with a 6-3 record, Culhane and the Broncos see themselves improving every weekend of play and making a big splash in the conference through the final month of the regular season.
“We continue to grow and battle as a team, every time out,” the Bronco head coach said. “We really scratched and clawed in the third period to try and win the game.”
As the Chargers head home to host a two-game series with Bemidji State on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, the Broncos will be right back in the electrifying Lawson Ice Arena Feb. 2 with a showdown with the Wolverines with a face off time of 7:35 p.m.
“We close out here the month of January with a road win at Bowling Green, a spilt here against Miami, a spilt with Notre Dame, a win over a tough Ferris State team and two wins against a hard Alabama-Huntsville team,” Culhane said.
“I think on any count that’s a pretty solid month for the team.”