DETROIT — They were, quite simply, unstoppable.
Just under six minutes of tied hockey in the third period was as close as Western Michigan could come to a Miami team on a mission in Detroit, as the RedHawks’ offense opened up with three third-period goals to beat the Broncos, 5-2, and capture their first CCHA playoff championship.
With the score tied 2-2 after Bronco Dane Walters’ power-play goal at 2:38 in the third, Miami’s Andy Miele scored at 8:13, followed by Curtis McKenzie at 10:10 and Reilly Smith at 16:30, and nearly everyone on the Miami team had a hand in the night’s five goals, three of which came with an extra attacker.
“The team that we have showed its true colors,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “When they scored, we started to take the momentum back. These guys deserve all the credit. They’re the ones that go out there and execute and perform. They weren’t satisfied with one [goal]. They got another one and another one after that.”
Miami opened the scoring on Byron Paulazzo’s goal at 12:03 in the first by taking the puck from behind the WMU net and wrapping it around and behind Broncos’ goaltender Jerry Kuhn, who was sprawling toward Paulazoo in the left side of the crease. That goal came the second after the RedHawks’ first power play expired.
Smith, whose goal to cap the game was the only real even-strength marker of the night, said that the success on the power play stems from the way the entire offense is clicking.
“Right now, it’s just the puck movement we’ve got going with mainly our seniors, between Carter [Camper], Miele and [Pat] Cannone,” said Smith, who had the second Miami goal at 18:53 in the first and an assist on Miele’s game-winner.
“They are just controlling the puck and making it tough on opponents’ defense to know where to go and to get in the shot lanes,” said Smith. “Right now, they are really controlling the power play and making it easy for me and [junior defenseman Chris] Wideman.”
Both Western goals were also scored on the power play. Trailing 2-0 in the second, Bronco Mike Leone scored at 18:22 to draw WMU to within one. Western Michigan coach Jeff Blashill said that team captain Ian Slater was key in keeping the team focused on coming back.
“He’s instilled an attitude on this team, to not be denied,” said Blashill, “and it doesn’t surprise me at all that we were able to battle back and put ourselves in position to win the hockey game. It’s a great group of character kids in there. We certainly did that, and unfortunately didn’t come out on top.”
After beating No. 1 seed Michigan in semifinal action Friday, the Broncos earned a chance at their first postseason title since 1986 — and this was a team that finished in last place in the CCHA in 2009-10 with just four conference wins.
“We faced…one of the best teams in the country,” said Slater. “We are going to take some positives from this and really work on things that we need to throughout the week and prepare for next weekend.
“It’s an opportunity to be here…and most [WMU players] haven’t had the opportunity to come here and play at Joe Louis and play against the best, and that’s what you want. You want to play against the best at this time of year and this is exactly what we wanted.”
Interview with Enrico Blasi
Interview with Dane Walters