KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Hockey is back in Kalamazoo as the 2007-2008 season began Friday night as the host Western Michigan Broncos defeated the Bentley College Falcons, 5-2, at Lawson Ice Arena.
“We are pleased to get the win tonight,” said WMU Head Coach Jim Culhane. “I am happy with the effort our guys gave. I think that we worked real hard; I thought Bentley worked real hard. There were a number of positives that we could pull out of the game, and a number of things we did well.”
Just seven minutes into a scoreless first period, on the second Bronco power play of the game, sophomore Tyler Ludwig hit a punch shot off the post, where fellow classmate Cam Watson cleaned up the rebound for his first career goal. Patrick Galivan was also credited with an assist.
Throughout the remainder of the period, the Falcons and Broncos skated evenly as the WMU took their one-goal lead into the first intermission. After one period of play, the host Broncos had outshot the visiting Falcons, 12-7.
At the 1:21 mark of the second period, junior Jeff LoVecchio slapped a shot wide left of Falcon netminder Jason Kearney, settling near the back boards where freshman Max Campbell picked it up and delivered a pass to the front of the net to Galivan who knocked it home for the second goal of the night.
“It feels real good to get the first win out of the way,” Galivan said. “It is very important for us to get off to a good start this season. We were able to get a lot of shots on goal, crash the net and that will help us come out tomorrow and get the win.”
As the second period rolled on, the momentum of the game seemed to swing towards the Falcon’s bench as they lifted their intensity looking to get back into the game down two goals to none.
“I thought being on the road here that we played real solid hockey in the second period,” said Falcon Head Coach Ryan Soderquist. “We started to come alive there, when we scored that first goal making it 2-1. But, you don’t want to be giving up goals early in periods or late in periods.”
“That was the difference in the game tonight,” he said.
Bentley did cut the WMU lead to just a goal at the 7:12 mark of the period on a tally by senior captain Jaye Judd. Taking a pass along the right-wing circle from Dustin Cloutier, the captain then deked right, enabling him to swing around the Bronco keeper Riley Gill, and knocking home the backhand goal into the empty WMU net. Marc Menzione was credited with the assist on the play.
“It was the first time we played these guys and I have a lot of respect for any Division-1,” Culhane said. “They came in here and played with a lot of energy. I was impressed with their transition game and their team speed, and anytime we were careless or reckless with the puck they had the skill to turn that into an offensive opportunity.”
That goal seemed to light a spark in the Falcons, as the two teams played an even game for the remainder of the period, until the Brown and Gold were able to build their lead again to two goals near the end of the period.
Sophomore Chris Clackson-with assists from Brian Bicek and Tyler Ludwig-fond the back of the net with 18:34 remaining when he fired a wrister from the right circle, which then deflected off the Bentley netminder.
“I can’t hand it on a couple of guys,” Culhane said when asked about the team’s five separate goal scorers on the night. “As a team to have success, we have to play a real puck pursuit game and not turn it over. We have to create chances from down low.”
The Broncos came out firing in the third period after being outshot 8-5 in the second, putting 13 shots on opposing goalie. WMU added two insurance goals to secure the opening night victory including an empty netter with just 49.5 seconds remaining in the game by LoVecchio.
But with 13:38 left to go freshman center Ryan Watson, the younger brother of fellow teammate Cam Watson, skated up into the Bentley zone, and found the puck, ripping a shot into the back of the net.
“I knew where I wanted to go with the puck,” he said. “I scored a goal like that in practice the other day. I looked, saw it was open, and went for it.”
The Falcons added their second goal of the night off the stick of leading scorer Jeff Gumaer, on a 1-1 opportunity against Gill.
“Some of our goal scorers need to step it up to the plate,” Soderquist said. “Jeff Gumaer got the monkey off his back tonight with a goal late. Hopefully, that will help him start rolling.”
The sophomore Bronco net minder made 18 saves between the pipes on the night, giving up the two goals as Kearney stopped 25 of 30 shots fired his way.
The ‘Lawson Lunatics’ jam-packed the arena creating a loud, hostile environment to play in all night long as they do for any opponent that travels into Kalamazoo to face the Broncos.
“The atmosphere is awesome,” R. Watson said. “The student section helps you play better.”
When the Falcons and Broncos take center ice Saturday night for game two of the series, one thing is for sure: Soderquist said his team would play a full 60 minutes of hockey.