By Stefan Kubus –
EAST LANSING – Sparked by a three-goal second period, 13 different players recorded a point for the Western Michigan Broncos Friday night in East Lansing to help kick off their March the right way.
The Broncos – a win and a Miami loss Saturday night would clinch first place for them in the CCHA – handed Michigan State not just a 5-2 loss, but also helped them officially clinch last place in the CCHA.
Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray credited the Broncos’ fortified puck possession game as the key contributor to that success.
“Well I thought our puck possession was real good,” Murray said. “I thought we actually set the game up in the first 10 minutes of the second period. I thought we had a lot of O-zone time, we held onto it, and made them play in the D-zone more than they probably would have liked. Our puck possession was much better tonight.”
The first frame brought a strong effort from Michigan State, as well as a goal from each side, as first it was MSU sophomore Brent Darnell (Canton, Mich.) banging home a rebound in front of Slubowski with the man advantage just halfway through the first.
Later, former Spartan Ben Warda (Lake Orion, Mich.) put one in against his former club to tie things up at one aside. Warda, a redshirt senior, played his freshman year at Michigan State, appearing in 33 games and tallying a goal and four assists.
“It felt great,” Warda said. “Our line was actually doing really well right off the bat of keeping it down low and keeping pressure on… It was good to get pucks on net early and we were lucky enough to tie it up.”
A Little Caesars ‘AAA’ product broke the tie with just under six minutes remaining in the second frame. Junior Shane Berschbach (Clawson, Mich.) took advantage of a Spartan defender tripping up over his own feet, went in and fired a wrister past Hildebrand for a 2-1 lead. He said the goal came as a relief because of his line’s recent struggles to put pucks in the net.
“We kind of just stopped thinking about it; we just figured they’d come if we keep playing our game and playing hard,” Berschbach said of the slump. “We were forechecking real hard all game, staying on pucks and it worked out for us well.”
And a minute later, Nolan LaPorte tipped home a beautiful Danny DeKeyser (Clay Township, Mich.) pass from the slot for a two-goal, 3-1 lead.
With a two-man advantage, at 17:11, Chase Balisy scored a fourth goal for Western Michigan on an unfortunate bounce for the Spartans. Balisy tried to make a cross-crease pass down low, but the puck bounced off MSU defenseman John Draeger’s skate and between Hildebrand’s legs for the goal.
That’s the way things stood after 40 minutes.
Up until the Berschbach goal, Michigan State was right with the Broncos in that game. In fact, Spartans head coach Tom Anastos said he thought his club was playing a strong game.
“I thought we were getting some decent scoring chances, not as many as in the second period, though,” Anastos said. “We were regrouping and coming back, but you can’t shoot yourself in the foot, especially against a really good team. That penalty was a shot in the foot.”
The penalty Anastos is referring to was MSU captain Greg Wolfe’s goaltender interference – whether it was his fault or not was up for debate – penalty 16:32 into the second period that put the Spartans down 5-on-3.
Darnell said the Berschbach goal sparked a fire under the Broncos at that point.
“Yeah it was definitely a turning point in the game,” Darnell said. “They had a few quick ones on us and we didn’t get the breaks. They were good in transition; that’s one thing we need to work on. We can’t get down on that. They’re a really good team. That’s the kind of mistakes they capitalize on, that’s why they’ve done so well this year.”
In the third, Colton Hargrove made it a 5-2 Broncos lead on a tremendous individual effort to beat a Spartan defender and tuck home a forehand goal on Hildebrand.
Anastos said a lot of his team’s woes came courtesy of bad breaks, although some of them self-inflicted.
“Certainly, there were parts of our game I didn’t like, but we’re just going to have to look at this game and learn from some of the game, regroup and focus on tomorrow,” Anastos said.
While Murray said his club has been challenged to find the back of the net recently, it surely wasn’t the case Friday night.
“Well we’ve been challenged to score goals,” Murray said. “I liked our game from the get-go tonight. We talked about being a solid team and returning to some of the things that have made us successful for the greater part of the season. We played hard, and now we’ll prepare for tomorrow night’s game.”
Notes: Western Michigan had not played in East Lansing since Oct. 30, 2009 prior to tonight’s weekend-opening game at Munn Ice Arena… Last season, MSU swept WMU on the road with 3-2 and 4-2 wins… Attendance: 5,668…