ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Western Michigan and Michigan played a classic November hockey game at Yost Arena Friday night.
Dane Walters’ goal with only 56.9 seconds remaining in the contest gave the Broncos a 3-2 win.
The frenetically paced opening two periods morphed into a slightly more cautious pace when the two teams entered the final period tied at 2-2.
The only thing that was not classic about the game was the winning goal, pinballing into the Michigan goal off Walters first and then ultimately off the stick of Michigan defenseman Mac Bennett into the Michigan net to snap the 2-2 tie.
Walters deserved full marks for his dogged effort that gave the Broncos the win and continued their unbeaten streak (6-0-3) that has spanned the first nine games of the season.
“We had a lot of activity at the net,” said Walters, explaining the Broncos’ approach that netted the winning goal. “We were trying to get pucks on (Michigan goalie Shawn) Hunwick all night. That’s kind of how it happened. We had a puck thrown in to the net and Chase (Balisy) saw me back door and kind of tried to kick it to me. It went off a few sticks, off the pads. I just saw it and whacked at it, got knocked down. Next thing I knew, I saw it crossing the goal line.”
Western Michigan netminder Nick Pisellini turned aside 34 Michigan shots to help preserve the win, 27 of those shots coming in the final two periods.
Hunwick made 22 saves at his end of the ice.
Despite the entertaining hockey displayed, neither coach was particularly pleased with his team’s play.
Broncos head coach Andy Murray expected more from his team, despite the win.
“I think we can play a lot better than we played,” said Murray. “I thought Michigan outplayed us. We’re going to have to be a lot better tomorrow.”
Michigan head coach Red Berenson saw it a little differently.
“In the last ten minutes of the game, when the game was on the line, I thought we got outplayed and outworked,” said Berenson.
Meeting the expectations for a showdown between two highly-ranked teams, third-ranked Michigan and fourth-ranked Western Michigan started the game off at a pace much quicker than normally exhibited in early November.
Only a few moments after Greg Squires rang a shot off the post to Hunwick’s left on a 2-on-1 break in the opening period, WMU captain Ian Slater put Western Michigan out front, 1-0.
At 11:33, Squires pounced on a loose puck in the low slot and lifted a shot high over Hunwick’s glove for his third goal of the season.
The highly entertaining first period was surpassed in pace and exciting play by the second stanza.
Brett Beebe and Dennis Brown combined to lengthen the Western Michigan lead to 2-0 at 3:11 of the middle period. Breaking in on Hunwick on another 2-on-1, Beebe finally took the shot that disappeared under Hunwick who appeared to have made the save. After a fraction of a second, however, the puck reappeared behind the Michigan netminder and slowly slithered into the net.
Despite trailing by two goals, Michigan went on the offensive for the remainder of the period, raining 15 shots in Pisellini’s direction, scoring on two of them to tie the game 2-2 after 40 minutes.
Sophomore Kevin Clare’s first career goal lifted Michigan to within one goal, 2-1, at 12:17. With Pisellini sprawled in the goal crease scrambling to recover his stick from the play in front of him, Clare fired a screened shot from inside the left point that eluded Pisellini.
Just over three minutes later at 15:29 with the teams playing four a side, Michigan’s Travis Lynch took a pass off the left half-boards and whipped a shot by Pisellini to knot the score, 2-2.
The cautious third period started out with Michigan pressing the Broncos, but the edge in play started to go in Western Michigan’s favor as the period progressed, leading to Walters’ game-winning heroics.
“We shouldn’t run out of steam,” pointed out Berenson. “This is Friday night and this is at home. There is no excuse for that. Let’s face it. It was a sloppy goal to give up in a close game like that.”
The game marked the first-ever college hockey coaching match up between the two former St. Louis Blues head coaches. A former Blues player himself, Berenson coached St. Louis from 1979-82, winning the Jack Adams NHL Coach of the Year award in 1980-81. Murray mentored the Blues much more recently, working behind the bench from 2006-10.
Western Michigan (6-0-3, 4-0-1-1 CCHA) and Michigan (6-2-1, 2-2-1-1 CCHA) head back into battle Saturday night at Yost in the series finale.