On a night when all of the MAC's eyes were on the MAC Championship Game and BGSU's thrashing of formerly un-beaten NIU (thus costing each MAC school roughly $750,000), there was hockey to be had. Televised hockey. NCHC televised hockey. Great NCHC televised hockey.
Western Michigan (6-6-3, 2-3-0) hosted a perennial power in North Dakota (6-7-2, 4-5-0) on Friday hoping to continue their winning ways at home, and on national TV no less. They brought the energy and physicality, but Zane Gothberg had other plans for the Broncos.
After coming out controlling the play, Chase Balisy won a face-off in the North Dakota zone and found Nolan LaPorte for an easy goal just 2 minutes into the game. It looked like the Broncos would control the play and handle the Sioux* en route to their 3rd NCHC home win in as many tries.
However, the special teams game had yet begun.
It started mid-way through the 1st, when Dennis Brown headed to the box for tripping. Up to that point, WMU had plenty of scoring chances, and looked dominant 5-on-5. Even after the penalty, the Broncos were handling the North Dakota power-play with ease. It was after a Colton Hargrove indirect contact to the head penalty that the problems started.
A 5-on-3 chance was easily converted on a one-timer by Luke Johnson, his 2nd goal of the season, and the tie would hold until the end of the period. But with the even score, came heated tensions between the two teams, with a physical game turning into a penalty fest.
6 first period penalties would be followed by another 6 in the second. Unfortunately for the Broncos, their first of that second period would lead to another Luke Johnson power-play goal, again on a one-timer. To make matters worse, Western Michigan would get a total of 5 power-play chances in the period, and failed to convert on every single one, despite getting great looks and getting a 5-on-3.
The Broncos would concede another goal in the 3rd period after a high pressure attack failed and Derek Rodwell was able to put home a rebound on an odd man rush to push the score to 3-1. The period also saw 7 more penalties, as the chippy play came full force when Mike Cichy, a former North Dakota player turned Bronco, got into a scrum with Stephane Pattyn and lost his helmet. Both were assessed minor penalties, avoiding ejection.
Josh Pitt scored his 4th goal of the season as time expired (something that can apparently happen I guess) to make the score 3-2, and make Gothberg's numbers a little less stellar, but not by much. The sophomore goaltender finished with 36 saves, including 29 in the 2nd and 3rd periods when he was peppered with shots in a close game. He was named the first start of the game, and deservedly so. As the game went along, his confidence was growing, and his glovework showed it.
Both teams face off against each other again tomorrow night at 7:05 pm.