DETROIT — With a 3-0 lead nearly midway through the third period of the 2012 CCHA championship game, Western Michigan watched Michigan score a shorthanded goal.
Then WMU captain Ian Slater was sent off the ice for a five-minute major penalty and the Broncos saw the Wolverines score another.
A third Michigan goal, though, wasn’t on the agenda tonight and the Broncos held on to win 3-2.
“It was a night of good bounces, you know, being in the right spot, working hard, using your body to shield off the defender,” said WMU junior Dane Walters. “We got a couple good bounces and I guess that’s how it goes sometimes.”
That’s exactly how it went for a Western Michigan team that dominated five of six periods of hockey in this year’s CCHA tournament to capture its first playoff title, the second in program history, and first since the 1985-86 season, the second in program history.
After beating Miami handily, 5-2, in the first semifinal game Friday, the Broncos looked unstoppable through two periods of play, in spite of trailing slightly in the shot count. Slater scored the first goal for WMU at 13:26 in the first and the Broncos netted two goals six minutes apart in the second half of the second period – one by Walters on the power play, one by his linemate Chase Balisy – to bring the score to 3-0.
But two five-minute penalties in the third period nearly changed the outcome of this game. First, Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill was given a five-minute major penalty for kneeing at 6:00 and UM sophomore Kevin Clare broke away at 8:01 to net his third career goal to cut put the Wolverines on the board.
Then at 11:27, Slater’s game misconduct for boarding gave Michigan five minutes of uninterrupted power play. Lee Moffie cut the lead again for the Wolverines at 14:02.
After that advantage ended with less than four minutes remaining in regulation, Walters said the Broncos never doubted the outcome.
“We have a confidence in everybody,” said Walters. “We like to roll four lines because we believe each person on our team can carry their own weight. After we killed that five-minute penalty, I think it was just a huge momentum boost for us. It was still a goal lead [coming out of] that.”
The Wolverines had their chances late in the third period but the WMU defense was smothering and anything the Western blue line couldn’t handle, freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski could.
“If you’ve got a good goalie, you’ve got a good chance to be a good coach,” said first-year WMU head coach Andy Murray. “That’s the bottom line.”
Slubowski finished the night with 27 saves with a two-game total of 46 and was named the tournament MVP.
Murray had a difficult time framing his comments immediately after the game.
“It’s tough to talk after something like that,” said Murray. “Your emotions. I’m just so happy for our players. This is all about them. It’s all about their commitment. All year they’ve worked extremely hard. I’ve had a lot of hard-working teams as a hockey coach, and I’m an old coach, so there’s been a lot of teams, but I’ve got a real hard-working core here.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson said that the game was one that could have gone either way.
“It was a great game for the fans,” said Berenson. “I liked the way we got back in the game in the third period.
“Hats off to Western. They were a good team all year and they’re a good team down here. They deserve the win, but I thought our team was right there.”
With the win, the Broncos earn the league’s auto-bid for the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines knew coming into the contest that they would be heading to NCAA playoffs.
Immediately after the game, Michigan captain Luke Glendening was looking ahead to next week.
“I thought our power play looked better tonight and that’s a step in the right direction for the [NCAA] tournament,” Glendening said.