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March 17, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

The Big Slubowski: Goalie Leads WMU to CCHA Title

26 Years Between Championships For Broncos

by Matt Slovin/CHN Reporter

DETROIT — Surprises filled this year’s season for Western Michigan, the grandest coming when the Broncos skated around the Joe Louis Arena rink Saturday night while hoisting the Mason Cup.

“I’m just so happy for our players,” Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. “We’ve got a real hard-working core here. I told them last night that all year, the way that they’ve played ... they’d already done a lot for the university and the hockey program. But this weekend was all about them.”

They wouldn’t have been the CCHA’s tournament champions had it not been for the Broncos’ rookie sensation.

Freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski, a member of the conference’s all-rookie team, didn’t have to be perfect to beat an exhausted Michigan team, 3-2, in the title game, but he was close for a majority of the game. He was given the tournament’s MVP honors for his larger-than-life performance.

After the Wolverines’ double-overtime thrilling victory in Friday’s nightcap semifinal, coach Red Berenson didn’t hint that his team might be tired for the championship — he came right out and said it. And he was right.

Michigan never could get its feet in the door, as every opportunity around the net allowed Slubowski to make another crucial save. The goal support did come for the Broncos, although they could have saved it for the NCAA Tournament, to which they earned an automatic bid with the victory.

To earn its first CCHA championship since 1986, Western Michigan had to halt a furious comeback effort from a Wolverine squad that only showed up for the third period. Despite outshooting the Broncos during the first two periods, Michigan never played with the sense of urgency it displayed in Friday night’s overtime period when Luke Moffatt finally found the game winner.

Instead, Western Michigan led 3-0 entering the final frame. Slubowski made it seem like an even bigger lead.

“Freshmen step up and do that sometimes,” Michigan captain Luke Glendening said. “It’s tough.”

But the Wolverines stormed back.

After Slubowski looked brilliant for the first 40 minutes of the game, Wolverine defenseman Kevin Clare, by no means a regular scorer, made him look silly when Michigan finally did open its scoring.

Clare dangled the puck right in front of Slubowski, before pulling it back and firing a backhand into the back of the net, cutting the Wolverines’ deficit to two goals.

Then, a mental lapse allowed Michigan to really get within striking distance. Western Michigan’s Ian Slater took a five-minute major penalty a bit too late in the final period for coach Andy Murray’s liking.

“I was sick to my stomach,” Slater said. “(I) maybe cried a couple of times.”

Slater went on to credit his teammates for killing off his five-minute game misconduct.

Michigan capitalized — but it wasn’t enough. It took a tremendous one-timer effort from Wolverine defenseman Lee Moffie, also a member of the all-tournament team, to beat Slubowski. The goal came off a beautiful pass from Moffatt.

It would be the last that Michigan would get back.

Slubowski hung on after Wolverine netminder Shawn Hunwick left his post, and the Broncos celebrated, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about their fate on Selection Sunday.

After the game, Murray was emotional. But when asked what he’ll take away from his first year at the helm in Kalamazoo, Murray turned into a comedian.

“I learned you can’t give (the players) cream cheese or peanut butter for their bagels, because that’s an NCAA violation.”

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