By Bob Miller/Western Michigan Beat Writer
Playoff level hockey in November - that's what Western Michigan and Notre Dame provided Tuesday night at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo.
Officially, the Broncos won a shootout to break what will go down as a 2-2 tie for the extra point in the CCHA standings.
But the intensity and high skill level of the game was as much of a story as the final score. Both clubs served notice that they fully intend to be around when March and April's conference and NCAA playoffs are contested.
“Heck of a hockey game,” repeated Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray to his questioner. “That's an understatement. It was a tremendous hockey game. Notre Dame, I don't know how they're not the best team in the country, I'd like to see who's number one. I never look at the rankings and I know someone said they're two. I don't know who's one. The only time rankings matter is in March. Our team works hard and I think you get what you deserve. I thought we were deserving tonight.”
Trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Broncos fought back from the slim deficit, outplaying Notre Dame in the middle period and took the lead on goals by Dennis Brown and J.J. Crew.
Western Michigan held that lead until late in the third period when Bryan Rust scored for Notre Dame with a diving effort swiping the puck into the empty corner of the Bronco net.
Western Michigan goaltender Frank Slubowski made several spectacular saves late in the third period to preserve the tie in regulation time.
“Notre Dame with the offensive firepower that they have, they're gonna get some chances,” pointed out Murray. “What we had to do was we had to manage things, and when we needed him (Slubowski), he was very good for us. You need that type of goaltender to be successful.”
After a five minute overtime settled nothing, Brown and Chase Balisy connected on shootout attempts as Slubowski held Notre Dame off the board completely to ice the shootout victory for the Broncos.
Western Michigan earned an off weekend over the Thanksgiving holiday before they hop back into battle December 2-3 with a home-and-home series with Ferris State.