More Valuable Growing Pains for Broncos
by Nathan Wells/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. There is no easy way for the players and coaching staff to deal with the end of their team’s season after all the months of sacrifice and hard work end with one loss. Fortunately for first-year Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray, however, he was able to deal with the pain of Saturday’s game surrounded by both of his families.
Murray saw his daughter Sarah, who plays professional hockey in Switzerland, for the first time in a year following the Broncos’ 3-1 loss to North Dakota in an NCAA West Regional semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center.
“I want to congratulate North Dakota on moving on. They still have an opportunity to be national champion. Their coaching staff has done a tremendous job,” said the first-year Western Michigan coach following the game.
It was the second straight season WMU were one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, having lost in double overtime to Denver 3-2 last year.
The Broncos quickly found themselves in a 1-0 hole when Michael Parks beat goalie Frank Slubowski on a wraparound 6:04 in the game. The freshman goalie, who was one of the big reasons for WMU beating Miami and Michigan on their way to the CCHA conference championship, seemed flustered early but like the rest of his team was able to settle down. Murray’s squad had the first five shots on goal against North Dakota goaltender Aaron Dell to begin the second period but UND’s Corban Knight scored his 16th goal of the season to make it 2-0 less than four minutes into the second.
“We didn’t come out of the gates the way we wanted to,” said senior Kyle O’Kane. “Once you go down 2-0, you start to feel a little tired.”
O’Kane, however, found a little extra energy to score the lone Broncos goal nine minutes later. Receiving a breakout pass from linemate Derek Roehl, he was able to sneak past the defense and beat Dell, who had 24 saves in victory, to cut North Dakota’s lead to 2-1.
It was as close as WMU would get but it was not because of a lack of effort from the entire team. A potential goal from Ian Slater was whistled off after the net was dislodged before the puck crossed the line — the fact that Slater directed the puck with his hand didn’t help either — and the Broncos matched UND shot for shot over the final 40 minutes. While Brock Nelson’s empty-net goal dashed the Broncos’ last stand, they did make a name for themselves even in defeat.
“Like coach (Dave Hakstol) alluded to earlier, we had a ton of respect for (Western Michigan) and after that I know my respect level came up because they battled extremely hard,” said North Dakota’s Corban Knight.
An afterthought in the CCHA for over a decade, WMU is trying its best to change minds on the program, one team and one fan at a time. Western Michigan is in the NCAA Tournament two consecutive years after being on the outside since 1996 and will move to the NCHC (along with today’s opponent) after next year.
“We made a name for ourselves around the whole country,” said O’Kane. “When you’re playing the Broncos, you’re going to pay the price and it’s not going to be an easy game.”
As one of five seniors on this year’s team, O’Kane has been through it all with three different coaches. The 2011-2012 version, with Murray at the helm, has been its tightest. WMU repeatedly engaged in team-building activities and were involved in the Kalamazoo community. It’s the type of thing that forges a bond between players and revitalizes a program that looks to have better days in front of them.
“Wins and losses come and go, but being known as a good person is even more important. I am lucky to have 29 guys that will be part of the Bronco hockey family for the rest of their lives,” said Andy Murray.
While Murray and his Western Michigan team may not have reached their ultimate goal this year in winning an NCAA national championship, it doesn’t fully matter. He has all the family –- biological or not — anyone needs.