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College Hockey:
Late Kessel goal in second proves game-winner as Western Michigan rallies past Miami

OXFORD, Ohio — A three-goal second period powered the Western Michigan Broncos to a 3-2 comeback victory over the Miami RedHawks, completing a season sweep. Junior goalie Frank Slubowski earned the win after coming on in relief. He was perfect, stopping all 24 shots he saw in 46:08 of play.

Slubowski said he was happy to come in and pick up his teammates.

“That’s why it’s a team sport; I felt good getting in there, it’s exciting,” he said. “[Coming off the bench is] a little different but you stay focused during the game and it works out.”

With time winding down in the second period, the Broncos had already stolen the game’s momentum to tie the score at two-apiece. Then Will Kessel carried the puck into the offensive zone right of Miami’s sophomore goaltender Jay Williams. He abruptly changed direction at the top of the circle and fired off a quick shot that beat Williams stick-side with just 29 seconds remaining in the period.

Kessel’s game-winner was a case of good things happening when the puck is put on the net.

“[Mike] Cichy made a great play chipping it out of the zone, and [Colton] Hargrove pushed it to the wall against me; I was just kinda ready to get off as well and cut to the middle, threw something to the net, and I was happy with the result,” Kessel said.

The RedHawks had built an early lead in the opening period with a pair of special-teams scores. The first came short-handed, as Austin Czarnik took the puck from the Broncos at their blue line and dished it to linemate Riley Barber. Barber wristed a shot that snuck through the pads of the Broncos’ sophomore goaltender Lukas Hafner at 8:14 for his 17th goal.

Four minutes later, the Broncos nearly took advantage of their own short-handed opportunity. With the RedHawks on a power play, Hargrove intercepted a pass and broke for the Miami zone with no one between him and Williams, but Williams stonewalled the shot with a kick save and the RedHawks moved quickly in transition. Seconds later, defenseman Matt Caito rifled a top-shelf shot from the point at 13:52 for a two-goal lead.

Hafner had only seen 10 shots against him, but Slubowski was then brought on.

Broncos coach Andy Murray said having Slubowski available was a great luxury.

“Lukas Hafner was tremendous in the game last night; tonight, it was Frank Slubowski’s turn,” he said. “It’s nice to have the ability to change if you think it’s necessary. It’s not what you plan, but we had two goalies that played good this weekend.”

In the second period, the Broncos took over. At 2:58, Josh Pitt cut into Miami’s lead with his 10th goal of the year, wrapping around the net while Williams was too slow to react. They tied the game at 7:18 courtesy of defenseman Chris Dienes. He fired a laser from the point that was too hot for Williams to handle. The goaltender put a glove on the high shot but couldn’t bring it down. Instead, it fell down behind him and crossed the line, setting the stage for Kessel’s game-winner.

The RedHawks mustered a number of scoring chances in the final period, peppering Slubowski with shots for extended amounts of time, but he stood on his head to keep the puck clear. He even had to defend against a six-on-four disadvantage when the RedHawks got a late power play opportunity while using an extra attacker as time wound down. Miami outshot WMU 13-6 in the period, and 34-25 for the game.

The RedHawks are just 1-6-1 in 2014, extending a funk for a season that opened with high expectations, but has frustrated coach Enrico Blasi.

“We seemed to shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said.”Obviously give them credit. They’re a good team, and obviously a better team than we are right now. They smelled blood and they took it.”

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