With only four scheduled meetings between the 3-4 MAC schools this season, we MACtion fans were hoping for some exciting games between the Miami RedHawks and the Western Michigan Broncos. They would have to carry the torch for the conference, playing within their own new conference: the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). What took place Friday night at Lawson Ice Arena was MACtion on steroids.
"It was an intense game," Bronco head coach Andy Murray said after the game. "Miami's got a bunch of warriors on their team, and it was a man's game tonight. Both teams played really heavy."
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The game started off with a strong Western Michigan attack, as the Broncos jumped out to an early 8-1 shots on goal lead. Still, RedHawk goaltender Ryan McKay (6-6-2) held strong and kept WMU off the board. It wasn't until about 7 minutes into the period that someone scored, as Colton Hargrove threw a shot off a RedHawk player into the net for the first goal of the game. It was the sophomore's 6th goal of the season.
However, Miami would strike back just 40 seconds later as Matt Joyaux got the puck off of a faceoff, and ripped a shot from the blue-line past a screened Lukas Hafner. The freshman's 2nd career goal tied the game at 1 and Bronco assistant captain David Killip was injured on the play, trying to move the screener. Killip appears to have confirmed on twitter he suffered a high ankle sprain, as he gingerly skated during the 3rd period warm-ups, but didn't see game action after the goal.
Somehow my stat line tonight (3 shifts, -1, 1 HAS) wasn't the worst of my career.. (2 shifts, -2, hives outbreak) Nov '11 vs. MSU #gamenotes— Dave Killip (@DK1Ate) January 11, 2014
The second period would see stellar sophomore, and U.S. Junior National Team Captain Riley Barber get on the board, as Justin Greenberg found his hot stick in the slot, where he buried his 12th goal of the season past a helpless Hafner to make it a 2-1 game.
However, the Broncos would respond 7 minutes later as Mike Cichy, in his 100th career game, buried his first goal of the season with some saucy moves past RedHawk defenders and McKay. The goal was reviewed but stood when it was determined a Bronco player was pushed into McKay, causing a slight interference in the sophomore net-minder's positioning.
Miami would respond just moments later, as Sean Kuraly took a pass from Ben Paulides down the side, and into the slot, where a well placed shot beat Hafner to make it a 3-2 game. Hafner was then pulled for junior goaltender Frank Slubowski (6-6-3), after making just 9 saves on 12 shots.
"It's a situation where we have two capable goaltenders, and when one's not on his game, then we're going to get the other guy in there," Murray said on the decision to make the switch. "You believe in all of your goalies, but it is a performance related sport. I think that Lukas played great for us in the GLI, but was not as good for us tonight."
Slubowski immediately made an impact, keeping the RedHawks off the board well over the next 20 minutes. Still, the Broncos trailed and needed a spark to tie up the game. They would get it from a likely source.
After Kenney Morrison was called for hooking early on in the 3rd period, the Broncos were forced to go on the defensive. However, senior team captain Chase Balisy snuck behind the defense, and Nolan LaPorte found him for a breakaway. The Nashville draft pick would not squander the chance, tying up the game with a deke move goal for his 3rd goal of the season, and his 3rd career short-handed goal.
Just 3 minutes later, Josh Pitt would give the Broncos the lead with a powerful move splitting two RedHawk defenders and beating McKay through his 5-hole. The goal was reminiscent of his overtime game-winner against Michigan at the GLI, as he used his strength to stay on the puck despite being pushed by one of the better defenders in the conference: Matthew Caito.
The Broncos would hold that lead until just over 6 minutes to go, when Kuraly again found the back of the net with a drive from the circle in on Slubowski. His shot would go over the junior's stick-side shoulder for the tying goal, setting up a potentially exciting finish between the usually stingy Bronco defense and the high-powered Miami offense.
Unfortunately for Bronco fans, Josh Pitt would be called for a charging just seconds into a late power-play opportunity, resulting in a 5 minute major penalty. The ensuing elongated RedHawk power-play appeared to give all of the favor to Miami and their top line of Barber, Austin Czarnik and Alex Wideman. However, the Bronco penalty kill unit would hold as they had for most of the game.
With time winding down, Miami would have a quick lapse of concentration and the Broncos quickly broke out with Balisy and LaPorte going back and forth before LaPorte would take a rebound and slide it home for the second short-handed Bronco goal of the game, and the game-winning goal with just 8.2 seconds left. The 5-4 loss was the first time Miami was defeated when scoring 4 or more goals, and only the 2nd time they lost when Barber, who tallied an assist on the second Kuraly goal, netted 2 points. It was also the first time this season WMU had won when trailing after 2 periods.
Miami's loss, coupled with a Minnesota-Duluth victory over Nebraska-Omaha, moved the pre-season conference favorite into last place in the NCHC. The Broncos are tied with the Bulldogs for 5th place, after Colorado College also lost.
Miami head coach Enrico Blasi could not be reached for comment after the game.
Both teams meet again Saturday night at 7:05 pm at Lawson Ice Arena for the second game of their series.