By Tom Morelli/WMU Beat Writer
Any hopes for Western Michigan to salvage their season through the CCHA Tournament were denied last weekend as the Bulldogs won in consecutive nights to advance to the quarterfinals round.
The Broncos had a strong chance to steal a win on the road Friday night, but fell in overtime to Ferris State 4-3.
Jeff Pierce gave Western Michigan the early lead just seven minutes into the opening period, as he rifled the puck past Bulldogs goaltender Mitch O’ Keefe. The marker was Pierce’s eighth of the season and came courtesy of Max Campbell and Kevin O’ Connor.
A mere five minutes later, Ferris State evened-up matters as they made full-use of their extra attacker. While Jonathan Lupa sat in the penalty box on a holding call, Blair Riley battled for the puck along the boards in the Broncos’ defensive zone. Riley made a quick pass to Justin Menke, who fed it to forward Cody Chupp for a one-timer.
The Bulldogs took the lead in the following period thanks to another goal coming on the man-advantage. Scott Wiethca made a pass from the blue line across ice to Brendan Connolly, who then blasted the puck behind Western Michigan’s net. Riley scooped up the loose puck in front of the crease and banged-in his 13th goal of the campaign at 11:12 elapsed.
Momentum shifted sides once again when the Broncos scored with five minutes left in the period. Sophomore Chris Clackson sped down ice on the wing and chipped the puck to Cam Watson, who finished the job with a back-handed shot.
With Western Michigan once again short a player, the Bulldogs scored their third power-play goal of the night in the third period as Justin Lewandowski set-up Adam Miller for the go-ahead goal at 11:02.
O’ Connor put the Broncos back in contention by crashing the net with the period halfway through. Junior winger Patrick Galivan and Watson both tallied assists on the game-tying goal.
Chupp sealed the deal for Ferris State with his winning goal at 8:32 of sudden death, which came courtesy of Riley and Menke.
Getting the decision in net for the Bulldogs was O’ Keefe (9-6-5), who stopped 28 of 31 shots.
Sophomore Riley Gill had a slightly busier time between the pipes on the other end, finishing with 34 saves.
Saturday night saw similar results, as Western Michigan scored the first goal, only to surrender the lead and play catch-up the rest of the game in a 6-3 loss.
Senior defenseman Nathan Ansell added one to the scoreboard for the Broncos less than six minutes into the opening period, as Campbell and freshman Travis Paeth assisted on the play.
A high-sticking penalty by Tyler Ludwig minutes later proved to be fatal for Western Michigan as Ferris State’s special teams came through once again. With help from Miller and Jim Jorgensen, Lewandowski scored on the power-play to set the tone for the Bulldogs’ offense.
Just before the end of the period, Corey Couturier and Mike Fillinger helped set-up a goal for Aaron Lewicki to take the lead.
Riley added an insurance goal two minutes gone by in the middle stanza, and Casey Haines notched the game-winner shortly thereafter.
Pierce and Paeth both generated lamp-lighters for the Broncos in the final period, but Connolly answered back with a pair of goals.
Pat Nagle extended his record to 8-7-0 between the pipes for Ferris State, and walked away with 27 saves.
Despite his 39 stops, Gill fell to 6-18-2 on the year.
With their 2007-2008 season in the books, Western Michigan finishes with an overall record of 8-27-3 (4-22-3 CCHA).
The Bulldogs improve to 17-14-5 overall (12-12-4 CCHA) and will venture off to South Bend, Indiana for a best-of-three series with the University of Notre Dame next Friday night.