25 Years Later, WMU Returns to CCHA Title Game
by Michael Mark Florek/CHN Reporter
DETROIT Twenty-five years was worth the wait for Western Michigan.
As the Broncos took the ice Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, they had already made history. It was the first time Western Michigan made it to the semifinals in 17 years. It added another milestone after a 5-2 win over Michigan. The Broncos are in the finals for the first time since 1986. They won the CCHA title year.
To pull off the same feat, Western Michigan has to beat a Miami team that just defeated No. 2 Notre Dame, 6-2, and is riding a 12-game unbeaten streak.
But it wasn’t necessarily that the Broncos made it to the title game. It was how they did it. They didn’t just beat the fourth-ranked Wolverines. They throttled them. Western Michigan scored five goals in the first two periods, three power-play goals, and the first time Michigan scored the Broncos responded just 40 seconds later.
This wasn’t just about hockey. It was the small directional school beating the state’s flagship university. It was the upstarts vs. the establishment. It was the team that's staying behind in the CCHA vs. the one soon to join the mighty Big Ten.
“We face great opponents every week mostly every week and Michigan is certainly one of those but our focus is our hockey team,” Western Michigan coach Jeff Blashill said. “And the thing we talked about before the game was ‘let’s go play our best hockey.’ You don’t want to come into these situations and hope to win. You come into these situations prepared to go out and execute to win.”
Western Michigan’s power play was 40th in the country, converting at just 16 percent. Like the rest of the program’s past, that number didn’t matter Friday. The first three Bronco goals came with the man advantage. Western Michigan missed on just three-of-seven power play opportunities all game.
All three goals — a slap shot that was tipped in front, a pass into the slot that was put just under the crossbar, a shot that’s blocked turns into a wide-open-net rebound goal — were the type good power plays score.
“You go through ebbs and flows on the power play through a season,” Western Michigan coach Jeff Blashill said. “We felt the process was pretty good, we just weren’t getting the same results, but we were getting good looks at the net. And tonight we were getting good looks and got the results.”
Sophomore defenseman Matt Tennyson tapped in the third goal after a teammate’s shot hit Michigan junior defenseman Greg Pateryn’s leg and bounced right to Tennyson. At that point the Western Michigan fans, concentrated in the top sections along one side, began to believe: the cheer was a little louder and it didn’t die down as quickly.
Michigan scored 28 seconds later to cast some doubt but Western Michigan responded with another one 40 seconds later to erase all doubt.
As the second period turned into the third, the “Bron-cos!” chants got more frequent and the “Kuuuuhn” chants in honor of senior goalie Jerry Kuhn were held a little longer. To cap it all off a “Yes We Can” ended the night.
For the Broncos it wasn’t a case of ‘Can we?’ anymore. They just did.
“It’s just three years of hardship thrown out the window,” Kuhn said. “I’m just happy to be here.”