Team of the Week: Western Michigan
Giving up nine goals in two games isn't something with which Andy Murray will ever be happy. Sometimes, though, it's a little easier to forgive.
Western Michigan overcame two third-period deficits against Denver, the nation's presumptive best team, to earn a sweep of the reigning national champion College Hockey News' Team of the Week honors.
"It was a huge couple wins, a huge weekend for us," WMU junior Corey Schueneman said. "But it doesn't really mean much if you can't keep going with it. The celebrating was done before practice started Monday."
Friday, WMU scored three third-period goals to overcome 4-3 deficit and take a 6-5 win.
Saturday, though, the real magic happened.
After DU's Jarid Lukosevicius scored to give the Pioneers a 4-2 lead at 7:48 of the third period, the Broncos erupted. Colt Conrad's goal at 8:21 halved the lead. Hugh McGinig scored 15 seconds after Conrad. Paul Washe 28 seconds after that.
Wade Allison, who scored twice in the second period, extended the lead to 6-4 before Jade McMullen's empty-net goal at 16:32 sealed the win. The Broncos, who trailed, 4-2, with 12:12 left in regulation ended the weekend with a 7-4 win and four points to kick off their NCHC schedule.
Allison scored four goals on the weekend, including Saturday's hat trick. After picking up a pair of goals in the season-opener on Oct. 6, he was without a goal in his previous six games. Despite the goalless streak, Murray knew what was coming for Allison — a 2016 second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Wade is one of those players, when he continues to shoot the puck, the pucks' gonna go in for him," WMU coach Andy Murray said.
"As long as he keeps shooting, with his talent level and shot, he has the ability to create chances on every rush. Every time the puck is on his stick in the slot, he has the ability to put it behind the goaltender."
The wins put Western Michigan on a three-game winning streak ahead of next weekend's series at Minnesota-Duluth.
A couple tough losses to Ferris State and Michigan State mixed with a winless weekend at home against Clarkson had WMU off to a worrisome 3-3-1 start. The performances against DU weren't exactly perfect from start to finish. However, very few teams are capable of that against a deep, well-structured, and relentless DU team. Prior to last week, the Pioneers had imposed their will on every team they played. Western Michigan showed it was more than capable of hanging with anyone.
"Our team had a bye week before we played Denver," Murray said. "We had some time to prepare for them. We did not play particularly well in the Michigan State series. We needed to get better. ... No. 1 team in the country coming in here. They'd just come in after beating Boston College and Boston University. We have tremendous respect for them."
WMU's ability to play with Denver showed off an under appreciated aspect of its club — speed. Around the country, people think size and defense when they think Western Michigan. The Broncos certainly have both of those things. But they can move just as well.
"With our new recruits and the players we have returning, we think we have some speed," Murray said. "We certainly emphasized speed in our recruiting. It's one thing we really looked for. ... We can get up and down the ice."
Not lost by WMU in its success over the weekend were its troublesome number of goals allowed. On both nights, Murray had to pull his starting goaltender.
Friday, Ben Blacker played the first 27:35 before being pulled for freshman Austin Cain. Blacker allowed four goals on the 19 shots he faced. Cain came in and stopped 15 of 16. Saturday, however, the roles were reversed. Cain allowed three goals on 10 shots through 25:43 before making way for Blacker who stopped eight of the nine shots he saw.
"We certainly didn't go into the weekend with the plan to play both goalies both nights," Murray said. "It's certainly not a recipe for success when you have to pull your goaltender.
"Ben did not perform well on Friday. He's been tremendous for us since he's been here. He got the chance to get back in there Saturday and got the job done. Austin showed us he can be the guy who can come in and clean up a game for us. ... We've got a lot of different options in goal."
Blacker was WMU's No. 1 last season, posting a .915 save percentage as a freshman. In nine appearances this season, his save percentage has fallen a bit to .906 — a number the Broncos will need to see rise to compete into a deep NCHC this season.