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December 14, 2012
Western Michigan might have Michigan's number, at least as of late. In their last 5 meetings, WMU has won 4 of 5, with all of the games being played in the East side of the state of Michigan. Nevertheless, the Broncos have fought through some tough crowds and has emerged victorious.
Friday, Frank Slubowski stopped 23 of 24 shots, including all 13 he faced in a tough 3rd period, to help the Broncos run their win streak to 6 games overall. That mark is the longest since the Broncos won 7 straight early in the 2000-01 season, the first full season under Jim Culhane. Now it is some of Culhane's players that are helping power the Broncos to their new success, albeit under Andy Murray
Mike Leone and Ben Warda are 5th year seniors that transferred while Culhane was in his final seasons. Now, they are adding some much needed extra scoring as the "Gold" Line. Leone had a pair of assists and Warda had a goal and an assist in the 4-1 victory over Michigan. Fellow Culhane recruit, and current captain, Luke Witkowski also had a goal.
The game started with a furious Wolverine forecheck peppering Slubowski with shots. Michigan would open up a 6-0 SOG advantage early, but then the Bronco offense went into attack mode. The rest of the 1st period would be all Broncos, as the forecheck would combine with good defense to shut the Wolverine attack down.
The Broncos got on the board with just over 7 minutes to go in the 1st period. Warda ripped a shot on Steve Racine that trickled in. It was his first goal of the season. Then, with time running out in the period, and the Broncos on the power-play, Witkowski found a lane in the slot, and buried a Leone pass past Racine to make it 2-0 after the 1st period.
Western Michigan continued their domination throughout most of the 2nd period, out-shooting the Wolverines 15-5. A Justin Kovacs goal, his first of the season, made it 3-0 just over 5 minutes into the period. The 3 goals by Kovacs, Witkowski, and Warda were all their first goals of the season.
However, the Wolverines would fight back. After a failed attempt to clear a puck by the Broncos, Luke Moffatt and "Boo" Nieves were able to push a puck to Phil Di Guiseppe, who lifted it over Slubowski's shoulder to make it a 2 goal game with 6 minutes to go in the 2nd period.
After that, the Wolverines pressed WMU and got a lot of good looks on net, but Slubowski held his ground. After a Chase Balisy hooking call with 3 minutes to go gave Michigan a key power-play, Red Berenson pulled Racine mid-way through, but his team was unable to score. A cleared puck was misplayed by Michigan, and Dane Walters found it and buried it in the empty net for the final goal.
The Bronco power-play went 1-5 tonight, but struggled at times to make opportunities. However, the penalty kill was solid, killing all 5 penalties, including a 5-on-3 in the 1st period. On that extreme odd man PK, Garrett Haar found a puck and hit post, nearly scoring a rare short-handed goal down 2 men.
After the game, Leone and Warda talked about how the "Gold Line" has stepped up and provided the extra scoring the Broncos have needed in this run.
"We talked as a line (about) needing some secondary scoring from Chase's line," Leone said. "We had to look at ourselves in the mirror the last few weeks and just be accountable and produce for the team."
"Coach has pushed us everyday in practice to be the secondary scoring line," said Warda. "He has confidence in us. We go out there and feel like we can go and put up some scoring out there. (Leone, Kovacs, and I) seemed to have chemistry right away and it's finally coming together."
Coach Murray again praised his team's effort in the win, but noted there were plenty of things to work on heading into tomorrow's game.
"We played hard tonight and knew they were going to come hard at us. We mishandled a couple pucks early on, but got our chances as well. In the 3rd, we were running around a bit in our zone and there were loose pucks that we didn't get to. We now have to find energy for tomorrow night's game."
The Broncos and Wolverines go back at it tomorrow night at Yost Ice Arena. Game time is scheduled for 7:35 pm.
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