By Tom Morelli/WMU Beat Writer
In their last conference series before the CCHA Tournament, Western Michigan ended their five-game losing streak and upset No. 11 ranked Notre Dame last Friday night in Kalamazoo by a 3-0 score.
Because this was their last game at home, the Broncos honored their graduating class of five seniors beforehand. Head Coach Jim Culhane’s 2008 senior class included defensemen Nathan Ansell and Jonathan Lupa, and forwards Brian Bicek, Jeff Pierce, and Mike Lesperance. All of the seniors played in the contest except Lesperance, who sat out because of a season-ending injury to his wrist.
The emotions of Senior Night were quite apparent amongst the Western Michigan players, as they spent most of the opening period on the penalty kill. The Broncos racked-up seven of their 15 penalties in the first 20 minutes of the game. Fortunately, they didn’t surrender any goals to the Fighting Irish power play, and both teams remained scoreless heading into intermission.
Western Michigan lost a player early in the second period, as defenseman Kevin O’ Connor was slapped with a 10 minute misconduct for arguing calls with the officials. Even with O’ Connor in the penalty box, the Broncos were able to muster some offense. Sophomore Chris Clackson blasted a slap shot from the blue line on Notre Dame goaltender Jordan Pearce, which allowed Western Michigan to crash the net on a rebound. Pierce circled around the boards and fed the puck to Cam Watson, who shot the puck in from the side of the net.
The Broncos were able to add an insurance goal in the last minute of the period, thanks to a turnover in the neutral zone. While Lupa sat in the box on a kneeing penalty, Watson poked the puck away from the Fighting Irish and made a pass up ice to a speeding Patrick Nagorsen. From there, Nagorsen deked past the Notre Dame defense on the right side and scored his first collegiate goal.
Co-captain Jeff LoVecchio scored an empty-netter with 16 seconds remaining in the game for his ninth goal of the season. Helping out on the play was forward Patrick Galivan, who tallied his team-high 22nd assist.
Sophomore netminder Riley Gill (pictured left) tied a career-high with 42 saves en route to his first shutout of the season.
The tides turned the following night, as the Fighting Irish topped Western Michigan with a 3-1 victory in South Bend, Indiana.
Special teams served as the downfall for the Broncos, as they allowed Notre Dame to score all of their goals on the power play.
Ryan Thang added his 16th goal of the campaign about halfway through the first period. Assisting on the lamp-lighter was Ian Cole and Kyle Lawson.
The Fighting Irish scored once again, this time late in the second period. Cole and Thang both earned their ninth assists of the season on Erik Condra’s goal at the 17:57 mark.
Gill was beat again in the third period, as Evan Rankin and Ben Ryan helped set-up a Mark Van Guilder goal.
Western Michigan winger Adam Flink took a pass from defenseman Tyler Ludwig to ruin Pearce’s opportunity for a shutout with seven seconds left in the game. With the goal, Flink scored his first as a Bronco.
Once again, Gill had a busy night between the pipes. With his 36 saves, Gill stopped 78 of 81 shots in the series. For his efforts, Gill was named CCHA Goaltender of the Week.
The weekend split gives Western Michigan a record of 8-25-3 overall (4-22-2 CCHA), as they head into the first round of the CCHA Tournament this Friday. The Broncos will battle with Ferris State University in a best-of-three series.