Northern Michigan University (9-8-1, 6-7-1 CCHA) and Western Michigan University (4-9-3, 4-6-2 CCHA) faced off last weekend in Marquette. While Northern had the most reasons to celebrate in earning a tie Saturday and a win Sunday, both teams ended Saturday's contest pleased as the score was a 0-0 tie. The game served as a showcase for both teams' defensive skills.
“It was a great game by both teams,” commented WMU coach Jim Culhane. “I thought our five defensemen did a good job killing penalties and both goaltenders played well.”
While both teams exhibited excellent shut-down efforts (Western killed ten power plays and Northern, seven), it was Western goaltender Daniel Bellissimo (pictured) who put on perhaps the best show of all, stopping 31 Northern shots, including one in overtime. With the tie, Bellissimo earned his first collegiate shutout.
Northern goalie Bill Zaniboni finished the game with 18 saves, including two in overtime.
Sunday's matinee game was a different contest from the beginning: Northern lit the lamp just 18 seconds into the game on a Pat Bateman goal. Nathan Oystrick and Zaniboni earned the assists. Jamie Milam put the Wildcats up by two with some help from Andrew Sarauer and Dusty Collins. And in the closing moments of the first period, Spencer Dillon and Rob Lehtinen set up Nick Sirota for the Cats' third goal, and the first of Sirota's career.
"After scoring that goal it was a huge adrenaline rush,” Sirota said.
Brent Walton got the Broncos on the board at 8:47 of the second period. His power-play goal was assisted by Ryan Mahrle. Paul Szczechura made it a one-goal game for Western early in the third period. Nathan Ansell picked up the assist on Szczechura's short-handed goal.
But Northern, who outshot Western 29-21 over the course of the game, widened their lead at the end of the third period. Darin Oliver added a goal for Northern with Bateman and Mike Santorelli assisting. At 17:20 of the third, Dirk Southern took passes from Milam and Zach Tarkir to seal the Northern victory with a 5-2 score.
Zaniboni finished with 19 saves and Bellissimo finished with 24 saves.
“I was pleased with our defensive effort,” NMU coach Walt Kyle said. “For us to be able to hang in there and finish the job late. I though that was impressive.”
The teams may have a rematch next week. Both the Broncos and the Wildcats will be at the Badger Showdown that begins in Madison on Dec. 30. Western will face Wisconsin on the first night while Northern will face off with Wayne State.