BRONCOS PRY REDHAWKS FROM COMFORT ZONE
Western Michigan 6, Miami 2 | Box Score
Western Michigan coach Andy Murray’s goal for his team is simple – make life difficult for opponents and good things will come. With a quick start in Friday’s semifinal against Miami, the Broncos achieved that goal – dictating the tempo and flow of the game and controlling the play from start to finish in a decisive 6-2 victory.
“We tried all year not to just be a hard team to play against, but a miserable team to play against,” Murray said. “Tonight, I think we were kind of a miserable team to play against.”
While the Broncos failed to keep superstar forward Reilly Smith off the score sheet – the Hobey Baker Award contender notched two more goals on the night, bringing his total for the year to 29 – that was about the only thing they did wrong, as they succeeded in frustrating the RedHawks from the get-go.
“They really shut down our breakout,” Smith said. “Every time we tried to feed the puck to the neutral zone, they just kind of stepped on it. We have to change a lot of things for tomorrow.”
Murray’s team has gradually improved at consistently getting opponents out of their comfort zone throughout the coach’s first season in Kalamazoo, and players like Will Kessel, a forward who led the way with three points Friday night, were pleased to see their year-long efforts pay off against a top-class opponent.
“It took a while at the beginning of the year,” Kessel said. “Coach Murray has his own philosophies and systems. Once we grasped onto them and the whole team bought in, he is an easy guy to play for. We all respect him, and it’s an honor to play for Coach Murray.”
The victory puts the Broncos into the CCHA title game for the second year in a row, where they will face a Michigan team that they knocked out in the semifinals a year ago. Considering where the Broncos were just two years ago, being an annual contender means a great deal to the team’s elder statesmen, who experienced life as a bottom feeder in the CCHA.
“This is huge for us,” Squires said. “Not just for myself as a senior but for my team. We talked about it all year long, about where we came from and what it was like and where we are now. We’re happy right now, but we have to win tomorrow – then we’ll be happy.”
MICHIGAN ENDS BG’s RUN
Michigan 3, Bowling Green 2 (2OT) | Box Score
Although it was a well-played hockey game for 60 minutes, with some creative playmaking, excellent chances in front of the net and brilliant goaltending from both Shawn Hunwick and Andrew Hammond, it was almost a certainty that Friday’s semifinal between Michigan and Bowling Green would end on a anything but a magical goal.
“We knew it was going to be an ugly goal,” Michigan forward Luke Moffatt said. “At that point in the game, when shots are coming at the net, you’ve got to move towards the net and try to get a rebound.”
Moffatt’s instinct was right, as he found himself near Andrew Hammond’s goal crease in the second overtime, backhanding a loose puck into the net and sending his team to a 3-2 victory and a spot in Saturday’s CCHA Championship game against Western Michigan.
While Michigan was able to generate some excellent chances in the early stages of the game, the puck never seemed to bounce their way, and Bowling Green’s Ryan Carpenter and Marc Rodriguez gave the Falcons a two-goal lead with first and second period markers.
In the Bowling Green net, Hammond confounded the Wolverines, stopping the first 30 shots he faces before a Jon Merrill puck knuckled its way past him in the final 10 seconds of the second period. David Wohlberg tied the game with just 2:45 to go in the third period.
Hammond stopped 14 more shots in overtime, setting a career high with 55 saves on the night, but was left helpless when Moffatt was there to pick up the loose puck just inches away from the net.
“Obviously (Hammond is) a pretty special young man,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said. “You heard him talking 20 minutes after what they just went through and he was articulate and well thought out. I think like everyone else in this program he’s learning how to win at this level, what expectations mean and coming to the rink every day with a purpose. I think his game progressed as the season went on and obviously this run over the past few weeks was pretty special.”
With the win, Michigan advances to the championship game, where they’ll try to avenge last year’s semifinal loss to Western Michigan.
“Obviously it’s great to have two Michigan teams in the finals,” Moffat said. “Western is a great team that has been here two years in a row. We have a little bit of resolve from them beating us last year, and we want to get them back for that. It’s going to be a big game.”
Bowling Green will take on Miami in the third-place game, where they’ll try to bounce back from the disappointing defeat by taking things a game at a time as they try to build on what seems to be a solid foundation for the future.
“We’ve taken a small picture approach for the whole season,” Bergeron said. “The big picture looks not very good, so we focus on small picture, small picture, small picture. I think tomorrow is another opportunity for this team to play together and take another step forward – not for next year, but for right now.”
The refs swallowed their whistles in overtime of the Michigan-Bowling Green game. It’s nice to see the teams fight it out five-on-five, and both teams deserve credit for not forcing the refs to make a call with an egregious infraction.
We’re not there to watch the crowd, but it was hard not to notice the enthusiastic Bowling Gren contingent. The overall numbers in the arena weren’t great but the Falcons’ faithful repaid their team with numbers and noise all night long.
If you’re going to go to the game, watch the game. Yes, March Madness has quite the grip on sports fans across the country, but that’s why DVRs exist. Even if it was your team playing, you missed a heck of a hockey game while watching the Wolverines lose to Ohio University in the concourse of the Joe.
INCH’s THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
3. Will Kessel, Western Michigan: For the Broncos to compete for the CCHA title it seemed that goals would have to come from top liners like Chase Balisy, but Kessel led the way with two goals and an assist, seven shots on goal and a plus-2 rating
2. Andrew Hammond, Bowling Green: Hunwick deserves a ton of credit, but Hammond was absolutely magical all night long. The sheer volume of Hammond’s 55 saves might put him here, but he stoned the Wolverines on more than a few Grade-A chances.
1. Luke Moffatt, Michigan: After Michigan struggled to pick up the trash around the net all night long, Moffatt was there when he needed it most. Hammond was drawn out of the net – a rare mistake and Moffatt’s backhand found the puck in a crowded crease to send Michigan to the title game.
In what promises to be an excellent, hard-fought game, Western Michigan will try to knock off Michigan at the Joe for the second year in a row and earn their second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
Both Michigan and Miami are safe bets to make the national tournament, but they’ll both want to bounce back with solid performances to give them momentum heading into the tournament. Miami needs to regain confidence after a disappointing performance and Michigan needs to make sure they can get their legs back under them after an exhausting double overtime effort.
Bowling Green has a chance to face Miami, but they can take solace in defeat, as they’ve proven that the program has really arrived, playing excellent hockey throughout the playoffs and coming a bounce or two away from playing for the Mason Cup.