KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Lawson Ice Arena was once again electric in its final regular season home game Friday night as the 3,755 roaring fans saw the Western Michigan Broncos defeat the fifth ranked Michigan State Spartans, 4-3.
Behind a 26 save performance from freshman net minder Riley Gill, and a game-winning, short-handed goal by sophomore Jeff LoVecchio, the Broncos were able to cling to the one goal lead for the duration of the final 20 minutes of play.
“First off, it was a real special night for us seniors, and to get the win makes it even better,” said senior center Paul Szczechura. “Your four years here just fly by, and we tried to use that as a confidence booster as well as for a boost of momentum.”
In a first period, which featured 14 combined penalties by both the Spartans and Broncos it was a period that couldn’t have been any more of a sea-saw battle, as both teams were able to notch a goal in the period.
“We just tried to come out hard, and make them match our intensity in that first period of play,” Szczechura said. “That first 20 minutes of play was a real war.”
The Spartans were able to light the first red lamp of the game on a power play goal by sophomore center Justin Abdelkader, as he took a pass from fellow sophomore line mate Tim Kennedy knocking home the first goal of the contest. The assist was Kennedy’s first of three on the night.
“I thought we started the game well,” said Rick Comley, MSU head coach. “Then, it got physical in the first period that seemed to take us out of our game. They got a jump on us, and we battled back and got plenty of scoring chances.”
As the emotions and intensity grew throughout that opening stanza, each team took a 10 minute misconduct penalty, along with five roughing after the whistle penalties and a cross-checking penalty at the 14:39 mark, which resulted in a Bronco power play opportunity.
Adding his fourth goal in three games, was the Broncos’ junior winger Brian Bicek, who hit a one time winner from the top of the point past MSU sophomore net minder Jeff Lerg from a pass from freshman Mark Letestu and sophomore Patrick Galivan, evening the score at one a piece, moving into the first intermission.
Starting the middle stanza with four-on-four both teams were able to get back to full strength, before the Broncos’ Chris Frank fired a rocket from the blue line on a pass from Szczechura, alongside the left-wing that bounced out of Lerg’s glove, as Galivan was there to clean up the garbage in-front of the Spartan net to put WMU up 2-1, just 3:47 into the second.
“We talked about it as a group that we wanted to have a real lunch pail approach as a team,” said Jim Culhane, WMU head coach. “It was a real tremendous work ethic, and for the entire senior class with their family and friends, it’s a win that they can really remember and take with them for the rest of their lives.”
After two more Spartan penalties, the Broncos saw themselves with a five-on-three advantage, as junior Jeff Pierce knocked a pass from the left circle off to Szczechura at the top of the point, where he moved through the Spartan zone, faking a shot and then centering a pass to fellow senior Ryan Mahrle, attacking the net to and striking a goal past the Spartan goalie.
“It was a nice five-on-three power play there for us,” Szczechura said. “We just kind of worked on a roll play there and I just rolled around. I was looking to shoot there, and I saw him [Mahrle] go to the net and looked back door and there he was.”
With the 3-1 goal advantage, the Broncos added one more goal on the short-handed goal on during a MSU power play chance, with WMU senior Jason Moul clearing the Spartan surge out of the zone, hitting a pass up ahead to LoVecchio breakaway try, as he faked left, then went right around Lerg sliding the puck between the Spartan’s Lerg and the right post.
On a two-man advantage of their own, the Spartans were able to creak back into the game starting on junior Daniel Vukovic’s one-timer from just behind the left-wing circle, cutting into the Bronco lead. Chris Snavely and Kennedy added the assists on the second goal.
Less than one minute later, still on the power play Kennedy found the sophomore center, Abdelkader once again at the 14:29 mark of the period, moving their deficit to just one goal after 40 minutes of play.
With the Broncos controlling the first 10 minutes of play in the middle stanza, the Spartans then bounced back answering with two unanswered power play goals of their own. The Broncos led the Spartans 4-3 after the first two periods of play.
With another two man advantage for the Spartans in the final period, the Broncos were able to cling to their one goal lead killing off the two man deficit.
“The big key for us in the final minutes of play was to win the face off,” Culhane said. “There was a couple there that we won, and then some we lost and then you just have to get loose pucks and win some battles. Both teams are play with a lot of urgency and a lot of desperation, and we were fortunate to keep it out of the net.”
Holding on to the one goal advantage with a tight grasp, the Broncos were able to escape the final minute of regulation with the victory, as it watched three Spartan shots knock off the post sealing the Bronco win.
“The hockey gods were with us tonight,” Szczechura said. “Riley [Gill] made some big saves again tonight. We got the breaks when we need them, when things are going well that’s what happens.”
The Spartans and Broncos travel up to East Lansing to conclude their four game season series, as MSU will look to even the series at two games a piece. The puck will drop at 7:05 from Munn Ice Arena.