The last time Western Michigan and Michigan State faced each other, the game ended in a 1-1 tie, with the Broncos eventually downing the Spartans, 1-0, in a four-round shootout during the Great Lakes Invitational in December.
After the first period on Friday night, it looked like the outcome might be the same, but the Broncos woke up in the second period and scored three unanswered goals, putting them up 4-1, eventually winning the matchup, 5-2.
“We’ve been challenged to score goals,” WMU Head Coach Andy Murray said after the game Friday night. “I liked our game from the get-go tonight. We talked about being a solid team, and returning to some of the things that made us so successful for the greater part of the season. Now we will prepare for tomorrow night’s game.”
Michigan State started the game getting on the scoreboard first when Brent Darnell added his tenth goal of the season. The Canton, Mich. native slammed home a rebound on an early power play 9:19 into the first period. Matt Berry ripped a shot from the left circle and WMU goalie Frank Slubowski made the initial save. The puck found its way over to Darnell who put the Spartans up, 1-0.
Murray did not let the first goal bother him, or his team.
“I mean they started off with a good power play goal,” Murray said. “I actually liked our game at the start tonight. We showed up for the full hockey game, and they were quite a resilient team.”
Former MSU forward Ben Warda tied the game at one for the Broncos. At 17:14 of the first period, Warda received a pass from tri-captain Luke Witkowski and skated into the high-slot. Warda fired a shot that deflected off a MSU defender and past goalie Jake Hildebrand for Warda’s third goal of the season.
Warda felt relieved and ecstatic after his goal, but he knew that it meant nothing if WMU could not pull out a win.
“It felt great,” Warda said. “I thought we were doing really well right off the bat, and keeping pressure on them. My line mates were definitely playing unbelievable down low and keeping pressure on them, and that makes it easier.”
In the second period WMU controlled the puck and the tempo. Their first goal of the period came at 14:11 on the stick of junior forward Shane Berschbach. Senior tri-captain Dane Walters moved the puck into Spartan territory and a MSU defender slipped and fell over as he tried to clear the puck resulting in a mini-breakaway for Berschbach. Berschbach’s shot beat Hildebrand for his fourth goal of the season, and first since January putting WMU up 2-1.
“It’s awesome,” Berschbach said. “I mean we figured the goals would come if we just played our game and kept working hard.”
Forty-five seconds later, freshmen Nolan LaPorte added to the WMU lead as he deflected a shot from Danny DeKeyser into an open net. Senior Trevor Elias earned an assist on the play as well, putting WMU up 3-1.
Junior Chase Balisy got his tenth goal of the season just minutes later. WMU had a five-on-three power play after two Spartans took penalties 40 seconds apart. Balisy found himself with the puck on the left side of Hildebrand and tried to make a saucer pass to Dane Walters on the opposite side. The puck deflected off of a MSU and trickled through the Spartan’s goalies legs.
The three goals in three minutes during the second period took all the momentum away from MSU.
“It was great to have a period like that,” Berschbach said. “We played real solid hockey against Notre Dame, and I think that carried over into this weekend.”
If four goals did not satisfy the Broncos enough, freshmen Colton Hargrove added a fifth 5:45 into the third period. Hargrove weaved through the MSU defense and made a swift move to beat Hildebrand low to his left side for his seventh goal of the season.
MSU added a late power play goal from sophomore Tanner Sorenson, but could not find enough offense to score again in the game.
In other CCHA action, Ohio State managed to shutout Miami (OH), 3-0. Notre Dame fought off a late furry from Bowling Green to defeat the Falcons, 4-3. As of Friday night, Miami leads the CCHA with 56 points. WMU is in second with 54 and Notre dame is in third with 53. This means the regular season CCHA championship comes down to the final game of the season. In order for WMU to come away with the title, they need help from OSU. If OSU defeats Miami in regulation, and WMU defeats MSU, WMU wins the title. If both teams lose, then Notre Dame has an outside chance to come away with the title as well.
All three games start at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday night.
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