ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In tonight’s 4-1 Western Michigan win over Michigan, the Broncos played well and the Wolverines did not.
There is no other way to put it.
With the victory, the Broncos extended their win streak to six games and moved to one point out of first place in the CCHA standings. With the loss, the Wolverines are winless in their last four (0-3-1) and remain in eighth place.
“We knew that Michigan would come real hard,” said WMU coach Andy Murray. “They’ve had two weeks to prepare for this series. They had an emotional shootout win at Ferris, which is tough to do, so they started off real hard and we stood in there and found a way to get it going after the first five or six minutes.”
Indeed, the Wolverines had energy for the first six minutes or so of the first period, but then were held without a shot for the final 14 minutes of the stanza. In the second half of the first, Michigan had a five-on-three advantage for over a minute, during which they rarely possessed the puck and gave up a shorthanded breakaway to Garrett Haar, a breakaway that didn’t result in a goal only because Haar hit the left pipe.
The Broncos led 2-0 after the first on an even-strength redirect by Ben Warda at 12:43 and a power-play marker by Luke Witkowski at 19:26, a low-velocity shot that hit the inside of Michigan goalie Steve Racine’s leg and dribbled in.
Justin Kovac scored at 5:36 in the second to give the Broncos a 3-0 lead in a period in which WMU outshot UM 15-5. The Wolverines did manage to penetrate the Broncos’ defense in the second adequately enough for Phil Di Giuseppe’s shot from the bottom of the right circle to make it past Frank Slubowski – and it was a nice shot – but Michigan was never able to capitalize on any momentum and Western Michigan closed ranks for the rest of the game.
The Wolverines outshot the Broncos 13-3 in the third, but Murray made what he called a “tactical adjustment” in the WMU zone midway through.
“The referee would not allow us to make a change and we had some people out there that I didn’t want in the match-up,” said Murray. “And you’re allowed to change when there’s a timeout, so we used it. We hadn’t used it yet. Why save it?”
Michigan had a power play late in the third, but did nothing with it. Dane Walters hit the empty net at 19:51 for the 4-1 final.
Following the game, Michigan coach Red Berenson was obviously frustrated.
“You’re looking at me like I’m supposed to have wise words,” said Berenson. “I really don’t have any wise words. I feel like we’re just making too many excuses, game after game.
“Tonight, it was the second period – and special teams was a factor again. We moved the puck pretty well on the power play at times, couldn’t score, and they do. Then we finally get good chances in the third and we’re down by two and it’s tough to score and the puck didn’t go in.
“Our overall team effort and our execution has to be better. I know we didn’t play for two weeks, so that’s an excuse, but that’s not a good excuse.”
For the Broncos, Slubowski made 23 saves, while Warda, Witkowski and Kovacs each registered his first goal of the season.
Racine had 24 saves for the Wolverines.
The teams meet again at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at Yost Ice Arena.
Said Murray, “They’ve got a tremendous lineup and a good coach, so we’ll take this one tonight and try and go at them tomorrow.”