Western Michigan got a third period goal from Shane Berschbach to take a 2-1 lead, and was able to hold onto that lead for a 2-1 victory over St. Cloud on Saturday night, to win the series' second game and leave St. Cloud taking five out of a possible six points on the weekend.
It was an intense game throughout, and not without a bit of controversy at the end. St. Cloud appeared to have tied the game with 2:09 to play when the Huskies jammed home a rebound during a delayed penalty. But the officiating crew of CJ Beaurline and Dan Dreger determined that Western Michigan goalie Lukas Hafner had possession of the puck and blew the play dead before the puck went into the net. After the post-game handshake, St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko walked across the rink, screaming and pointing at the officiating crew for the call while fans threw empty bottles and other debri onto the ice.
The game was the type of hard-fought conference battle both teams were used to in their old conferences. Western Michigan jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Will Kessel but St. Cloud answered back with a goal by Kalle Kossila. Western Michigan was able to kill off back-to-back 5-on-3 man advantages for St. Cloud in the second period, and in the third period, got a key goal from Shane Berschbach to take the lead.
From there, Western Michigan sat back and tightened things up defensively. St. Cloud's best chance with about five minutes remaining when Jonny Brodzinski skated down the right wing and fired a hard shot off the cross bar. Western Michigan goalie Lukas Hafner was outstanding all game, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced. His counterpart, Ryan Faragher, stopped 17 of the 19 shots he faced.
The win brings Western Michigan's record to 13-8-4 on the season, and 7-5-1-1 in NCHC play. The loss drops St. Cloud to 12-5-4 overall, 7-4-2-0 in league play.
7:10- Will Kessel from Nolan LaPorte and Sheldon Dries 1-0 Western Michigan
Kessel outmuscled an SCSU defender to bang home a rebound of a LaPorte shot past Faragher.
16:58 Kalle Kossila from Jonny Brodzinski and Ryan Papa 1-1 tie
Kossila took a pass on the left wing, and from the left face-off dot, fired a high, hard wrist shot that beat Hafner to the glove side.
4:39 Shane Berschbach from Kenney Morrison and Lukas Hafner 2-1 Western Michigan
Hafner made a big save off some extended St. Cloud pressure, and Morrison picked up the rebound to create a 2-on-1 the other way. Morrison fired a high pass in the neutral zone that Berschbach handled smoothly to create a breakaway. Berschbach deked to his backhand and slid the puck between the legs of a diving Ryan Faragher.
-Might as well start with the big one: the waved off goal. I'm sure video of it will be made available, and we'll have it here when I find it. I got one not-so-great look at it in the press box, and to me, it looked like Hafner slid across the ice and made a save, with the puck under his pads. Since it was a delayed penalty, I can see the argument that he had possession enough to stop the play, which is what the refs ultimately decided. There was actually similar play earlier in the game where Hafner made a save, but never quite had full possession during a delayed penalty and the officials stopped the play there too, though obviously with not as many consequences.
-Even if the officials didn't blow that call, the officiating was pretty rough tonight. During Western Michigan's stretch of three consecutive penalties, giving St. Cloud nearly two consecutive minutes of 5-on-3 power play time, Andy Murray seemed fine with the decisions on the two too many men penalties called(though coaches are always more understanding of those calls when they win), but I thought the third penalty they called on Chase Balisy was just horrendous. In the third period, St. Cloud was charged with their own terrible penalty on a play where Western Michigan tied the puck up along the boards for an exceedingly long amount of time with no whistle. St. Cloud's Andrew Prochno skated over and hit a player involved in the scrum of five players and was whistled for a penalty. There was really no reason play should have been allowed to continue for that long with no whistle.
-For as well as Western Michigan played, it sure felt like they stole this victory. In my notes for both the first and second period, I wrote down that I felt Western Michigan was lucky to get out of the period still tied 1-1. St. Cloud had the better of the chances in the first period, and had the extended power play in the second period.
Lukas Hafner was the difference-maker for Western Michigan through those two periods. His glove was a bit shaky all night, giving up the goal to Kossila on the glove side, and not corralling a couple pucks up high, but he was impossible to beat down low, making some grade-A saves on rebound opportunities. Add in a Western Michigan defense that didn't allow a lot of time and space for St. Cloud to line up shots up high and that's a difficult combo to beat.
When the Broncos got the lead on a beautiful goal by Shane Berschbach, they completely shut things down defensively. It is very difficult to move the puck through the neutral zone against Western Michigan when they play back like that, and they don't give up many quality scoring chances on defense. The Broncos lack the big offensive finishers of a top-five team, but they're a very deep team and when they're playing well, can be really tough to score on. They've been surging since winning the GLI in late-December, and it wouldn't be a big surprise to see them push for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
- To single out another Western Michigan player, I loved the way Jordan Oesterle played on defense tonight. Extremely poised with the puck and just solid on both ends of the ice. He got stung really good blocking a shot late in the third period while short-handed and gutted through the shift to help preserve the lead. He didn't end up on the scoresheet, but played a huge role in the win.
-Western Michigan killing off nearly a minute of 5-on-3 power play time, only to go down 5-on-3 for another minute and killing that off was a huge turning point in the game. The Broncos were stellar on that penalty kill, not really allowing many quality chances, other than a few rushed shots that were zipped high and wide. The Broncos played a really tight triangle and did a great job taking away time and space despite the disadvantage.
-For St. Cloud, the Huskies have kind of relied on scoring-by-committee throughout the year, and most times, that works out great because everybody chips in a little bit; but it also means there are nights when nobody is scoring and they turn in the occasional clunker. Tonight was one of those offensive clunkers. If I had to single out a player that played well, Jonny Brodzinski continues to impress with what a complete player he is becoming. He had an assist tonight, his 10th of the year, and just missed his 11th goal with an absolute laser off the cross bar late. The Huskies' fourth line provided some nice jump, especially in the first period as well.
-The announced crowd tonight in St. Cloud was 4697, though the building felt more full than any game I've seen here this year, and the crowd was pretty great throughout, despite the low-scoring game. It's a good lesson that games are just so much more exciting, intense, and fun when conference points are on the line, as opposed to non-conference games.
-Okay, this was a very exciting game, and last night's game in Mankato was a good one as well. But had it not been for CBS Sports Net moving Friday's start time in St. Cloud up to 6pm for TV purposes, I would have seen 10 goals on Friday night in St. Cloud, and a goalie get ejected in a fight on Saturday in Mankato.
-A year and a half ago, St. Cloud begged to be included in the conference that was supposed to have a higher standard of officiating.
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