Brittain stays steady for Denver after bad bounce

Daniel Doremus gets congratulated on his goal against Western Michigan (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

MINNEAPOLIS — Scoring goals proved no problem for Denver. It was finding the right net that posed a challenge.

Despite scoring on itself twice, Denver rallied for a 4-3 victory over Western Michigan on Friday evening at Target Center.

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Just 42 seconds into the opening frame, Denver goaltender Sam Brittain stepped out of his net, allowing his skate to catch a puck that rebounded off the back wall and send it into his own net — a preview of the adversity to come.

Joey LeLeggia also sent a puck into his own net with nearly two minutes left in the second period before tallying his own for the Pioneers.

When the Broncos took an early lead in the first, how Brittain reacted kept the team from shaking.

“Like a champion,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “He’s been a rock for us all year. You could tell he wasn’t bothered at all. It was a bad bounce off the boards.”

When the puck made its way into the net and signaled a 1-0 deficit for the Pioneers less than a minute into the game, not finding the right bounces quickly became a common theme.

“I’m sure it went through the minds of some of the guys on the team,” LaLeggia said. “We do a very good job of keeping a positive bench and we have a really great group of resilient guys, so it was great to come back.”

Western Michigan succeeded in its goal of claiming the first goal, but Denver got the last.

“We just came out trying to get that first goal and we had a lucky bounce,” Broncos forward Chase Balisy said. “We had a couple of good shifts in that first period. They kind of took it to us at the end of the first.”

The Pioneers notched two more goals in the first period but found themselves in a 3-2 deficit after LaLeggia’s skate caught Will Kessel’s shot, sending the puck past Brittain at 18:06.

LaLeggia redeemed himself, though, with a shot from the blue line that tied the Broncos with less than four seconds to go in the second period.

“It was great to get that goal back for our team, especially in a timely matter,” LaLeggia said. “It was an unbelievable play by Josiah [Didier] to freeze that guy with that shot. … I just got it and got lucky.”

While a single goal separated the teams from the conference championship game, it was the Broncos that fell just short.

“Whoever got that next goal would be in a good position to win the hockey game,” WMU coach Andy Murray said. “We’re disappointed. We give credit to our opponent.”