Western Herald – Western Michigan University hockey ties Notre Dame, wins in Shootout in “man’s game”
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Western Michigan University hockey ties Notre Dame, wins in Shootout in “man’s game”

Kenny Wenzel
Senior Sports Reporter

Western Michigan University players celebrate the opening goal on Friday night. Senior Mike Leone passed to sophomore Justin Kovacs who was able to blast the puck past Notre Dame goaltenderSteven Summerhays/Rob Wetterholt Western Herald.

Western Michigan and Notre Dame battled back and forth in front of 3,738 screaming fans to a 3-3 tie in Kalamazoo, Mich. on Friday night.

Despite getting goals from sophomores Will Kessel and Justin Kovacs, and freshmen Nolan LaPorte, WMU (18-9-6, 14-7-4-3) could not pull of the win in regulation, or overtime, in a game that coach Andy Murray called a “man’s game”.  WMU would eventually defeat the Fighting Irish (19-12-2, 15-8-2-1) in a four round shootout to earn a second point in the conference standings.

“I just felt the game all the way through was hard,” said Murray.  ”It was a physical game.  There were a lot of one-on-one battles in the hockey game all night.  It was a man’s game tonight.  That’s the characteristic of games we have against Notre Dame.”

WMU opened up the scoring at 12:33 in the first period.  Senior Mike Leone found Justin Kovacs in the slot who wristed it under UND goalie Steven Summerhays’ glove earning his fourth goal of the season.  Senior tri-captain, Luke Witkowski earned an assist as well.

The Fighting Irish responded five minutes later on David Gerths eighth goal of the season.  Sam Herr earned his first career point on the play.

Kessel responded just 21 seconds later for his first goal of the season, putting the Broncos up 2-1.  Kessel smiled from ear to ear  after the game as he described the goal.

“It is unbelievable,” Kessel said.  ”It has been way too long since the semi-finals of the CCHA last year.  I had too long of a streak going without one.”

UND scored the only goal of the second period.  Bryan Rust took a blocked shot down the ice and fired it on sophomore goalie Frank Slubowski.  The puck deflected off of a WMU defenseman and found it’s way past Slubowski for Rusts eleventh goal of the season, tying the game at two apiece.

The Broncos grabbed the lead for a third time at 4:07 of the third period.  LaPorte picked up a rebound from a deflected shot and buried it past Summerhays for his second goal of the season.

After the game, LaPorte felt relieved to finally light the lamp again for the Broncos.

“It was incredible.,” LaPorte said.  ”It was an unbelievable feeling.  Our line has been grinding out goals lately, and it has been a long time for either me or Kessel to get one.”

WMU sophomore, Garrett Haar, picked up an assist on the play in his first game back in WMU’s line-up since Dec. 15.  An upper body injury previously sidelined the blue-liner for over two months.

The Fighting Irish once again tied the game at 11:10 on Austin Wuthrich’s fourth goal of the season.  UND rushed down the ice on a four-on-two break.  Steven Fogarty wristed a shot that beat Slubowski but was denied by the post.  The puck landed right in front of Wuthrich who buried it in a wide-open net tying the game at three.

Both teams battled hard defensively in overtime earning a point in the CCHA standings for either side.

In the shootout, WMU senior Mike Leone scored during the second round, but Rust tied the game in the third round sending the game into a sudden death shootout.  Junior Chase Balisy skated down the ice and fired a puck past Summerhays putting WMU up 2-1.  UND defenseman Robbie Russo had a chance to tie the game and send the shootout into a fifth round.

With the crowd on their feet, and the Lawson Lunatics screaming as loud as they could, Russo fired the puck only to be denied by Slubowski sending the crowd into a frenzy.

“I think it was their internal focus before the game,” said coach Murray.  ”We knew it was going to be a battle, it always has been the last couple years.  You’re never too far ahead, and you’re never too far out of it.  We just needed to stick with it.  We got to the shoot out scenario, and we’re going to do whatever we could to get the extra point.  Frank made some solid saves and we found a way to get the points we needed.”

With Miami (OH) defeating Lake Superior State on Friday night, the Broncos now trail the RedHawks by three points in the CCHA standings.  The extra point earned by WMU puts them two points ahead of third place UND.

WMU and UND face-off again Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.  Fans are encouraged to arrive to the game early as the seniors are going to be recognized for “Senior Night”.

Follow @Wenzel_Herald on Twitter for news, live updates, and complete game coverage throughout the season.

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