COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — At some point, it surpassed weird and just became absurd. Trailing Colorado College 3-0 late in the second period, Western Michigan rallied and scored four goals in an eight-minute span, gave up the tying goal less than two minutes after taking the lead, and then won a shootout after the overtime to gain the extra conference point.
“I give credit to Colorado College for playing real good hockey against us,” said Broncos coach Andy Murray. “They were faster than we were and they were getting to pucks, and we were always second, and when you’re second, you usually don’t have puck possession.”
“It feels like a loss, but we’ve been giving up goals in spurts all season long,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “It’s 3-0, there’s three and half minutes to go in the second, you’re at home, you feel pretty good, they get kind of an easy one, then they had a nice goal with 34 seconds to go in the second period.”
Considering how thoroughly CC outplayed Western Michigan in the first period, the fact that the Tigers were only up by a goal at the end of one was a testament to both CC’s season-long offensive struggles and the play of Broncos goaltender Frank Slubowski. On an early power play, Archie Skalbeck had a great chance from the slot, only to see the puck roll off his stick before he could get a shot. Later, Jeff Collett was sprung on a breakaway, only to see Slubowski come up with the stop.
When the Tigers did get their first goal, it came on a harmless-looking play during a power play, as Jacob Slavin got the puck in the right corner and spun back out toward the net, getting a sharp-angled shot that Cody Bradley deflected in past a surprised Slubowski at 15:21.
CC came out with jump early in the second, and quickly built a two-goal lead when Jordan DiGiando skated down the left side boards and released a quick wrist shot from the bottom of the left circle that beat Slubowski far side at 2:06.
Western Michigan had a good chance to get one back while short-handed when Nolan Laporte backhanded a shot from the slot while cutting to his left that hit Josh Thorimbert’s outstretched left leg and bounced over the goal. While CC’s power play was ineffective, the Tigers took a three-goal lead right after that penalty ended when Archie Skalbeck skated down the left side and ripped a shot from the left faceoff dot that beat Slubowski short side at 8:07.
At that point, Murray pulled Slubowski and put in Lukas Hafner, who finished the game.
It seemed like CC would take a three-goal lead into the third, but Western’s anemic offense, which had only 10 shots on goal with three minutes left in the second, finally broke through on its 11th shot of the game, which came at 17:11. Kenny Morrison fired a rocked from the left point that Thorimbert stopped partially, but the rebound trickled behind him, and Laporte beat a CC defender to the crease and poked it in.
Western then pulled within one when Will Kessel, standing at the right side post, picked up a rebound of a Sam Mellor shot and shoved it home at 19:26.
“We got a big goal obviously to make it 3-1, and we capitalized right away again to make it 3-2, and that gave our team some energy,” said Murray. “Not a recipe for a success doing it the way we’ve been doing it the last month or so, spotting teams leads like that, but give Colorado College credit, they deserved to have that 3-0 lead.”
Now it was the Broncos carrying momentum into a period, and just 1:15 into the third, Western tied it, as the Broncos’ top scorer, Shane Berschbach, split the CC defense on the right side and got a perfect pass from Taylor Fleming to go in alone on Thorimbert. Berschbach cut through the crease and backhanded a shot five-hole into the net.
“At least the break came, and I thought that we would be able to regroup a little bit, but they came out and scored again, so it’s tough for us right now,” said Owens. “It’s frustrating because we finally score some goals, a power-play goal, four goals. I thought our forwards played pretty good tonight. I thought we skated decently, but you know, we had some lapses and breakdowns.”
Western then took its first lead of the game when after a long shift with sustained pressure, Chase Balisy fed a pass to Thomas Nitsche on the left point, and Nitsche beat Thorimbert with a quick wrist shot from a few steps inside the blue line at 5:46.
“I’m not much of a rally coach,” said Murray. “That usually means you’re losing, trailing in the game, and I would much prefer that we learned to play with the lead. It’s a tough league, and they want to win too, and you just have to play your best game, and they were better than us for the greater part of the first two-thirds of the game.”
However, the Broncos didn’t maintain the lead for long, as just 1:26 later, Peter Stoykewych got the puck on the left side of the slot and fed a pass through the crease to Alex Roos, who tapped it in at 7:12.
“It was nice to see us come back and tie it,” said Owens. “While Josh had to make too many tough saves down the stretch, it’s a point for us, and points have been tough to get.”
Western looked to have a golden chance to retake the lead when it went on a power play at 14:32, but the Broncos couldn’t get any good chances, and were mostly kept to the outside.
After an early CC push in the overtime, Western started to get the better of the chances, none more so than when Chase Balisy went in alone on a breakaway, but he was stoned by Thorimbert.
In the shootout, CC went first, sending out Alexander Krushelnyski, Scott Wamsganz, and Sam Rothstein, while Western sent out Justin Kovacs and Berschbach. Krushelnyski tried to go five-hole, but was stopped. Kovacs skated down the center and then went to his backhand, beating Thorimbert’s outstretched left leg. Wamsganz skated down and cut to his left, then tried a quick backhand drag, but hit the post past Hafner’s left leg. Berschbach skated down and tried a quick wrist shot from the slot, but Thorimbert made the save. Rothstein went last for CC, but his wrist shot from the slot was stopped by Hafner.