DETROIT — What a difference just one year can make.
In just his first season as head coach at Western Michigan, Jeff Blashill coached his Broncos to an upset victory over top-seeded Michigan 5-2 at Joe Louis Arena Friday night.
The semifinal round win vaults Western Michigan into the CCHA playoff championship game for the first time since 1986, when the Broncos won the title game over Michigan State, 3-1.
They’ll play Miami, which disposed of Notre Dame easily in the first of Friday’s two semifinals. Michigan’s consolation prize is a matchup with Notre Dame in the dreaded third-place game.
“We’re certainly excited with the outcome,” said Blashill. “We knew that Michigan’s a great hockey team. Our focus was on us playing our best hockey. I think our guys went out there and played pretty close to what we would call our “A” game. They stuck to Bronco hockey. They hunted a lot of pucks and came up with turnovers.”
Western Michigan steadily built a 3-0 lead on the strength of three power-play goals.
“You go through ebbs and flows on the power play,” Blashill said. “We felt the process had been pretty good. We just weren’t getting the same results. Tonight, we got good looks and got the results. It’s as simple as that.”
“I can’t tell you what went wrong,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I could tell you we didn’t kill penalties well. The puck went in to easy for them. And we didn’t generate much. So, give Western credit. They played like a desperate team and they were the better team.
“It seemed like we were fighting ourselves a little bit [on the power play]. They made a couple of good plays and they got a couple of good bounces.”
After Michigan scored a power-play goal of its own, the Broncos struck right back and emotionally took charge of the game. Michigan was never really a factor again as Western cruised to the victory.
In contrast to the tournament’s first semifinal, in which Miami jumped all over Notre Dame early, Michigan and Western Michigan played an even, measured opening 20 minutes.
Western Michigan exited the first period up by a lone goal after taking advantage of a five-on-three manpower edge.
With the Wolverines already down one man, Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill was whistled off for intentionally dislodging the net behind Hunwick.
The Broncos scored with 29 seconds left in the two-man advantage when Danny Dekeyser one-timed a howitzer from the high slot on a feed from Greg Squires at 9:25. Dekeyser’s blast picked the upper left corner of the Michigan net over Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick’s stick.
Western Michigan decisively took control of the game in the second period, outscoring the Wolverines 4-1.
At 6:28 on the power play, Dane Walters’ shot from the inside edge of the circle to Hunwick’s left beat the Michigan netminder again high to the stick side.
Utilizing the power play for the third time, the Broncos extended their lead to three goals, 3-0, when Walters’ shot from the slot rebounded off Hunwick straight to Matt Tennyson, who was stationed at the corner of the Michigan net. Tennyson slapped the puck into the empty net at 13:53.
Michigan mounted a mini-comeback at 14:21 with a power-play marker of its own. Only seven seconds into the Wolverines’ power-play opportunity, Lee Moffie whistled a shot from the right point past Broncos netminder Jerry Kuhn, who was effectively screened by Kevin Lynch in front of the net, pulling the Wolverines very temporarily within two, 3-1.
Western Michigan struck right back at 15:01, capitalizing on a failed Michigan clearing pass. Mike Leone picked off the Wolverines pass just inside the blue line and found Derek Roehl streaking toward the net. Roehl kicked Leone’s pass up to his stick and managed to get a shot off from close quarters on Hunwick, who partially blocked the shot. Momentum carried the puck just over the goal line for a 4-1 Broncos lead.
Capping the Broncos second-period burst, Kyle O’Kane batted a loose puck past Hunwick from just outside the Michigan crease at 17:27.
Michigan gained a small measure of revenge at 8:33 of the third period when Merrill’s left-point shot was tipped by Lindsay Sparks past Kuhn, but the game’s result was long past being in doubt.
“We’re certainly excited,” Blashill said. “We’re excited for Broncos everywhere. We had a great showing [of fans] tonight. I think we’ll have a great showing tomorrow night. It’s a great opportunity to play for a championship, so we’re excited about that.
“This means a great deal,” said Blashill. “We’ve tried to move this program forward. Throughout the season, we’ve taken steps along the way. Now, we have a chance at a championship game right in front of us.”
Video: Western Michigan coach Jeff Blashilll:
Video: Western Michigan’s Max Campbell: