Following last night's defeat, the Western Michigan Broncos (6-7-2, 2-4-0) wanted to come out strong and set a pace against a talented North Dakota (7-7-2, 5-5-0) team that knocked them around the night before. They both played well for sure, but thanks to special teams, the former Fighting Sioux came out on top.
For the first 5 minutes, that's what appeared to happen. The Broncos came out and dominated the play, suffocating their mid-western foes, drawing penalties, and striking first on a Kenney Morrison power-play goal, only his 2nd of the season. It looked like they would be headed to a split series and a solid performance in front of a home crowd.
However, when North Dakota did finally make it into the game, they made a statement.
It took the preseason top 10 team nearly 8 and a half minutes to register a shot on goal, but all it took was one to tie up the game, as Luke Johnson sent a shot well wide on a power-play. However, the rebound off of the boards fell right to Dillon Simpson who beat a late Frank Slubowski to the near post. It was Simpson's 2nd goal of the season as well.
North Dakota would strike again in the first period, as the Broncos hit a string of bad luck. After Chase Balisy couldn't corral a chance on the offensive end, he would suffer a broken stick on the other leaving him a sitting duck on defense. Defensive replacement Paul LaDue would shoot past the stick-less Balisy, and Bryn Chyzyk deflected the shot past Slubowski's shoulder for the 2-1 lead.
With the energy seemingly sapped from the usual raucous Lawson crowd, and the players showing signs of fatigue after 80 minutes of rough hockey with one of the nation's best teams, the Broncos would concede another goal mid-way through the 2nd period after Rocco Grimaldi, one of the best players in the country, weaved in and out of the slot to the goal and threw an incredible shot through traffic for his 6th goal of the season.
Western Michigan would change goal-tenders, as Slubowski had only stopped 11 shots on 14 attempts, and sophomore Lukas Hafner stepped in for the Broncos.
"Taking Frank out of the game wasn't really (anything) against Frank," Broncos head coach Andy Murray said after the game. "It was more the fact that we had given up 14 shots and had 3 goals against, and though I cannot fault him on the goals, bottom-line is we needed to change something in the dynamic of the hockey game."
Hafner was solid the rest of the way, stopping only 3 shots, but that included a 3-on-none breakaway led by Grimaldi. The sophomore also was aggressive play the puck, and his energy gave the Broncos a bit of a breather on long pucks in his end.
That said, the Broncos were still sleep-walking through the game. Even when they were able to draw a lengthy 5-on-3 chance due to two North Dakota penalties in quick succession, Western Michigan couldn't even manage to put a shot on Zane Gothberg, who was again solid for the "nameless tundras". With a 3-1 deficit after 2 periods, and all of the energy of the game in North Dakota's favor, the Broncos had an uphill battle to get back into the game.
After a very slow start to the 3rd period, WMU did pick up their play late enough to draw a Jordan Schmaltz holding penalty. When Justin Kovacs was able to quickly put home a great Nolan LaPorte pass to make it 3-2, the building and team suddenly seemed to come back to life.
The Broncos would pressure North Dakota the rest of the way, and had numerous chances late after they pulled Hafner for an extra attacker. However, Gothberg and the rest of his teammates kept battling and denied chance after chance to secure their second 3-2 victory over Western Michigan in as many nights.
"Our guys played hard (tonight)," Murray said after the game. "There was a phase there where we were up (1-0) and we could've gotten another goal or two and didn't score. We're having trouble finding the recipe of a full 60 minute (game) and we need to find it."
The Broncos now will head to Minnesota-Duluth to play the Bulldogs in their final NCHC series of 2013 next weekend. After that, they'll have a weekend off before heading to Detroit to play in an outdoor Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park.