ST. PAUL – Pat Ferschweiler knew he had a chance to do something special when he took over as Western Michigan head coach following the sudden departure of Andy Murray.
Even he didn’t realize at least 25 victories and a #1 seed in the national tournament would be the result of his first year on the job, but hey, he believed in his group of players, and they came through. And he can add conference tournament title to the resume with one more victory this weekend.
Two goals by Ty Glover helped jumpstart the offense, and the Broncos kept the North Dakota Fighting Hawks out of rhythm all game long as Western Michigan prevailed 4-2 on Friday night in the second NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal.
“We came out to battle. It was just a man’s hockey game all over the rink,” Ferschweiler said. “It was a good battle by us.”
Hugh Larkin and Max Sasson added goals for WMU, which advanced to the NCHC title game for the first time ever by taking the rubber match from North Dakota after the two teams swept each other in their respective home rinks in the regular season.
“It takes an entire team to win a hockey game,” WMU forward Drew Worrad said. “We had everyone going.”
Judd Caulfield and Nick Portz scored for the Fighting Hawks, but their overall game seemed off all night – they had problems getting the puck deep, they weren’t forechecking as well as usual, and the power play unit had a rare off game.
“If they’re sharp and you’re not as sharp, that’s what happens,” UND head coach Brad Berry said. “Credit to them, they played hard.
“It’s all about the mental side of the game; being sharp with the puck.”
Caulfield put North Dakota on the board first with a backhand goal, but it didn’t take long for Western Michigan to respond as Glover tied it less than two minutes later by depositing a rebound through the five-hole of Zach Driscoll (22 saves).
Glover scored again almost exactly 20 minutes later to give the Broncos the lead by tipping in a Michael Joyaux shot, and Hugh Larkin made it 3-1 after serving a holding penalty and coming out of the box for a 2-on-1 break with Drew Worrad.
“We had a lot of good happen for us in that second period,” Worrad said.
Desperately needing an answer, UND was able get a huge goal from Portz with seven seconds remaining in the second period to make it a 3-2 game after 40 minutes. But the inability to come through on the power play came back to bite the Fighting Hawks; they failed on five opportunities Friday, including three in the second period. And Griffin Ness also took a five-minute boarding penalty early in the third, forcing UND into a lengthy penalty kill.
“Discipline’s a big thing,” Berry said. “It’s something that we’re gonna make sure that we practice.”
North Dakota gained some momentum after killing the major and finally stepped up their forecheck over the final 15 minutes of regulation, but by then it was too late. Sasson converted a UND blue-line turnover into an empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining, sealing the first-ever Frozen Faceoff semifinal victory for the Broncos.
North Dakota is locked into a #2 seed for the NCAA tournament and they will await their regional when the brackets are announced on Sunday.
“I think for us, just sharpen up a few details,” said UND forward Mark Senden when asked about what his team needs to do to prepare for the regionals. “Everyone has to be going for a full 60 minutes.”
Meanwhile, Western Michigan has jumped up to #3 in the Pairwise rankings and have assured themselves of a #1 seed for the NCAA’s. They will be the #3 or #4 overall seed in the tournament depending on how their NCHC championship game against Minnesota Duluth – a 2-0 winner over Denver in the first semifinal – goes.
“I’m proud of their poise, I’m proud of their maturity, I’m proud of their work ethic,” Ferschweiler said. “Everyone in that locker room believes in each other and I believe in them as well.”
Brandon Bussi made 21 saves for the Broncos.
UND goal at 11:45: Judd Caulfield (11). Assisted by Riese Gaber (22) and Connor Ford (24).
WMU goal at 13:38: Ty Glover (7). Assisted by Max Sasson (13) and Ronnie Attard (23).
WMU power play goal at 13:34: Glover (8). Assisted by Michael Joyaux (24) and Drew Worrad (34).
WMU goal at 19:29: Hugh Larkin (3). Assisted by Worrad (35).
UND goal at 19:53: Nick Portz (2). Assisted by Mark Senden (12).
WMU empty net goal at 18:27: Sasson (9). Unassisted.
Power plays: WMU 1-3, UND 0-4.
Shots on goal: WMU 26, UND 23.