It wasn't always pretty, but Western Michigan took advantage of the few opportunities presented to them and were stingy in their defensive end to grind out a 4-2 road victory over Minnesota Duluth. The win gave the Broncos five NCHC league points on the weekend after tying and winning a shootout on Friday night.
Minnesota Duluth controlled the early stages of the first period but it was Western Michigan that would strike first when Nolan LaPorte scored a power play goal at 9:27 of the first period. Minnesota Duluth would even things up late in the period when Alex Iafallo backhanded a shot into the top shelf of the net.
The teams would play a scoreless, and rather uneventful second period before opening up the offense in the third period. Taylor Fleming's power play goal put the Broncos in the lead with a rebound putback on the power play. The Bulldogs answered back 1:44 later when Tony Cameranesi jammed home a rebound that snuck behind Western Michigan goalie Lukas Hafner.
But Western Michigan's Colton Hargrove would score the decisive goal--making this his fifth straight game with a goal--when he picked off an errant UMD pass and beat Bulldog goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo with a low wrist shot.
The Bulldogs would fight hard for the game-tying goal, but after just missing an opportunity to tie the game in the final minute with the goalie pulled, Hargrove scored on an empty-net when he threw the puck off the boards and it rolled into the vacant net to seal the victory.
The win moves Western Michigan's overall record to 10-9-3, 3-6-3 in the NCHC, but marks the fifth straight game in which the Broncos haven't taken a loss. Minnesota Duluth falls to 13-8-1, 8-5-1 in the NCHC. Western Michigan comes back to Minnesota next weekend for series at St. Cloud State. Minnesota Duluth will play in the second annual North Star College Cup next weekend at the XCel Energy Center, opening up the tournament against Bemidji State on Friday.
Shots on Goal: UMD:9-8-10-27 WMU 15-5-7-27
Corsi(even strength shot attempts) UMD: 12-10-25-49-67.1% WMU: 10-8-6-24-32.8%
Prime Scoring Area attempts: UMD: 10-9-8-27 WMU: 9-5-4-18
What do the numbers tell us?
The possession numbers were fairly close for the first 40 minutes, with very low shot attempts on both sides. UMD dominated the third period, but just couldn't convert on their chances, whereas Western Michigan was very opportunistic.
UMD threw everything at the net in the third period, but Western blocked 10 of UMD's 25 attempts, and all but 8 of UMD's attempts came from outside the prime scoring area.
-This was pretty much the definition of winning ugly for Western Michigan. The Broncos struggled all night to break the puck out of their own zone and did so cleanly very few times. There were a lot of missed passes and throwing pucks off the boards and squandering possession just to get the puck out of the zone. But they were very tight defensively in their own zone and didn't give up many quality opportunities.
That's a style Western Michigan feels comfortable with though. They've got a lot of big guys that play very hard and are willing to sacrifice their bodies to make defensive plays. The Bulldogs had a lot of near-goals on scrambles in front of the net, but by the end of the night, they were only able to score on one of those types of plays, and that was enough for Western Michigan to get the win.
-Meanwhile, Western Michigan was incredibly opportunistic on offense. They finished the night two for four on the power play and both goals came at very important times. The Broncos spent most of the first ten minutes of the game penned in their own zone. But they capitalized on their first power play attempt and were able to play with the lead and head into the locker room after the first period tied when, by all rights, they should have been trailing. Fleming's power play goal in the third period also put Western Michigan in the lead at a time when they were getting seriously outplayed.
-Hargrove's game-winning goal was a bit of puck luck when a solid UMD defender made a very uncharacteristic turnover, but again, Hargrove got a golden opportunity and made the most of it. Hargrove has been absolutely on fire of late with six goals in his last five games. Western Michigan needed someone to step up and score some goals consistently and he's been that guy.
-Minnesota Duluth obviously missed Dominic Toninato, who was suspended for this game after kneeing Nolan LaPorte on Friday night. Cal Decowski stepped into the first line center role and had a pretty decent game. He showed up on the scoresheet with an assist and that top line created a few other chances on the evening.
-The Broncos are now unbeaten in their last five games, and 7-1-2 in their last ten. It's going to be really hard for the Broncos to climb into home ice contention because there's such a big gap between fourth and fifth place in the league, but they are going to be an absolute bear for whoever hosts them in the playoffs.
9:27 Nolan LaPorte from Colton Hargrove and Sheldon Dries (power play) 1-0 Western Michigan
LaPorte picked up a rebound and circle around the left circle. With traffic in front of the net, he fired a low wrist shot to the far side underneath the glove of Kaskisuo.
16:44 Alex Iafallo from Adam Krause and Cal Decowski 1-1 tie
Krause skated into the zone down the right wing and fed a pass to Iafallo in the center of the ice. Iafallo made a quick move to his backhand and shot the puck into the top shelf of the net.
7:55 Taylor Fleming from Aidan Muir and Sheldon Dries (power play) 2-1 Western Michigan
A UMD clearing attempt hit a linesman, allowing to feed Muir coming down the slot. Kaskisuo stopped Muir's shot, but Fleming was there to put back the rebound for the goal.
9:39 Tony Cameranesi from Justin Crandall and Brenden Kotyk from 2-2 tie
Crandall jammed at a rebound in front of the net that trickled through the legs of Hafner, but stopped just short of the goal line. Cameranesi was there to knock the puck over the line though.
10:38 Colton Hargrove unassisted 3-2 Western Michigan
Hargrove picked up a UMD turnover just inside the UMD blue line and fired a low wrist shot that beat Kaskisuo to the glove side.
19:30 Colton Hargrove unassisted (empty net) 4-2 Western Michigan
Hargrove picked up the puck near his own blue line. He fired a clearing attempt off the boards at about center ice and the puck rolled on its' edge into the open net.