Broncos drop opener to a depleted Pioneer team; fall to fifth place in the NCHC

By Sam O’Toole –

KALAMAZOO - The Broncos have had many games this season where their third period heroics led to a victory.  Friday was not one of those nights for the home team.

Western Michigan (15-13-5, 9-10-2-2 NCHC) was unable to hold their conference lead on Denver, who came into Lawson Arena without second-leading scorer Quentin Shore and junior defenseman Joey LaLeggia.  Denver pushed the pace and was able to secure the road win by the score of 4-2.

Denver goaltender Sam Brittain was the star of the game as he recorded 29 saves on 31 Bronco shots, including three of the best saves an opposing goaltender has made against the Broncos this season.

Mike McKee recorded his first career collegiate goal with 21 seconds remaining in the third period after getting great positioning in front of the net.

The Detroit Red Wings’ seventh-round draft pick in 2012 made the move to forward this season, and after the game, Broncos head coach Andy Murray praised McKee’s progression through his freshman season.

“Mike has worked extremely hard, and we have been doing extra sessions with him,” Murray said.  “We decided that rather than have him play games and him not totally being ready, we would give him extra skill sessions.  Coach Ferschweiler has been working with him in the morning on his skating and doing different things, and it looks like it’s paying dividends.”

Broncos’ captain Chase Balisy also tallied his ninth goal of the season, and goaltender Frank Slubowski stopped 31 shots.

Denver (15-12-6, 9-9-3-2 NCHC) controlled much of the first two periods with their five powerplay opportunities and outshooting them, 22-15, but were unable to convert on any of them as the Broncos stifling penalty kill unit led by senior Chase Balisy and sophomore Nolan LaPorte.

The Pioneers had distinct power-play advantage all game, something Murray wasn’t too pleased with.

“Tonight the powerplays were seven to one,” Murray said.  “We got a powerplay late in the hockey game for our first one and in reality, they sent the wrong guy to the box.  No. 19 [Daniel Doremus] was allowed to stay on the ice and kill the penalty, and he happens to be their best penalty killer.”

The Pioneers were able to secure an even strength goal with 5:27 remaining in the second after Emil Romig buried a shot from the slot with Gabe Levin screening Slubowski in front.

Romig’s fifth goal of the season gave the Pioneers a one goal advantage heading into the third period.

The Broncos would tie the game, 1-1, after a rocket from the point by Taylor Fleming was tipped by Balisy 4:16 into the third period.  It was the fifth third-period goal for Western Michigan in its past two contests.

LaPorte received a five-minute major for checking from behind 6:55 into the third.  He would remain in the game after the penalty as he didn’t receive a ten-minute misconduct which would have ended his night.

Denver made the Broncos pay when Will Butcher received a pass at the point from David Makowski and buried the shot to give the Pioneers the one goal advantage with just under 12 minutes to play in the third period.

Trevor Moore also recorded an assist on the play, increasing his team-leading point total to 27.

Denver would get late goals from Gabe Levin and Matt Tabrum (empty-netter) to take the 4-1 lead before McKee’s late goal.

Saturday’s game against Denver could be the seniors’ final game at Lawson Ice Arena if the Broncos are unable to maintain a top-four slot in the NCHC standings.  Shane Berschbach (Clawson) after the game talked about his preparation for series finale after the game.

“We’re coming in with a huge business mentality,” Berschbach said.  Not much is being said in the locker room,  just starting to focus on tomorrow, and we’ll be ready to go.”

The Broncos look to bounce back against the Pioneers on Saturday at Lawson Ice Arena.  The puck drops at 7:05 p.m.