The Western Michigan Broncos may be young this year, but they appear to be loaded with talent. On a night where they beat the Western Ontario Mustangs 5-2 in an exhibition game, the underclassmen put on a show.
Bronco head coach Andy Murray started 3 underclassmen and no seniors for what is believed to be the first time in his tenure behind the bench. In the first period, his young team came out firing. Once settled into the game, the first goal came from Kyle Novak, a freshman forward.
On a delayed call, fellow freshman Mike McKee set up the offense before attacking down the ice. Eventually, senior Shane Berschbach just barely got off a pass to Novak who calmly lifted a back-hand over Mustang goaltender Josh Unice's shoulder.
Not long after, the underclassmen would be well represented again.
After junior defender Jordan Oesterle found sophomore Nolan LaPorte, Laporte sent a long stretch pass down the ice that hit Will Kessel's stick on a breakaway, which Kessel promptly put home to make it 2-0.
After that strong first period, the 2nd period would see some sloppy play by both sides.
A combined 7 penalties in the first 5 minutes of the period would lead to 2 goals. The first was by Berschbach, who's 5-on-3 goal was a huge credit to a nice traffic pass by fellow senior Mike Cichy. The second goal was in favor of the Mustangs, as Matt Clarke was credited for a goal after throwing a shot on net, having it saved by Frank Slubowski, but then having it dislodged and into the net.
Both teams settled down however, and as the game went on, the Mustangs appeared to gain momentum over the next 20 minutes. They would capitalize on it mid-way through the 3rd, as Kyle De Coste threw home a one-timer from teammate Zach Harnden past back-up goaltender Lukas Hafner to make it a 3-2 game.
Nevertheless, the Broncos would shortly pick up the pace a bit and got back their insurance after Cichy redirected a Fleming shot from the blue-line past Unice. Nolan LaPorte would also earn his 2nd assist on the goal, as he and Fleming really showed off their set-up play on the night as underclassmen.
Both teams would dig in the rest of the way, getting decent chances. However, after a Will-Kessel empty-netter, both teams called it a night and the Broncos emerged with a 5-2 victory with Western Michigan out-shooting Western Ontario 35-20 despite a 12-7 Mustang advantage in the 3rd period.
The Broncos as a whole looked hot and cold at times throughout the night, especially when they hit the cold stretch midway through the 2nd period up until the 2nd Mustang goal. "When you got 10 first year players, and you don't have a big roster (like we do), you're going to expect them to play," Murray said after the game. "For the most part, they looked like young players at times then the next shift they looked guys that have played for a while."
"The chemistry is high on this team, but we have a lot of new faces," Kessel said after the game. Kessel, a starter for the Broncos every game last season opened the game with freshmen on both sides of him and without long-time, solid defenders in Luke Witkowski (graduated) and Danny DeKeyser (signed with Detroit) behind him.
"Definitely a different scene than last year," Kessel said with a smile. "I got to play with some great players last year in playing with Danny and Luke, and Trevor (Elias) was an unbelievable winger for me. Defintely a different scene but (Aaron) Hadley's a big body and likes to get after it and (Sheldon) Dries just loves to attack and has great strength on the puck even though he's a bit undersized."
The new-look Broncos will now open their season next weekend with a home-and-home against former CCHA foe Notre Dame, beginning on the road Friday night at 8:05 pm. That game can be seen on NBC Sports Network. The Saturday game will be played at Lawson Ice Arena at 7:05 pm.