By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 16, 2013
KALAMAZOO — For junior forward Derek DeBlois, the scoring opportunity came from above. Literally.
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Sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe’s breakaway shot near the right post deflected off Western Michigan goaltender Frank Slubowski and up into the air. Flipping end over end, it landed in the crease where DeBlois was charging. With the raising of his stick, DeBlois held the dagger to the game in his hands, and he followed through to score Michigan’s fourth goal of the game.
Highlighted by a four-goal second period, the Michigan hockey team outmuscled No. 9 Western Michigan, 5-1, to finish with its fourth-consecutive sweep. With the win, Michigan advances to Joe Louis Arena for its 24th-consecutive appearance in the CCHA semifinals.
“Our team had the momentum from last night and everything went our way,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We played well, and we didn’t let them play well.”
Sophomore forward Alex Guptill had two goals while junior Luke Moffatt added three assists to lead a proficient Michigan offense that dominated from the very beginning of the game.
Just 1:08 into the game, senior defenseman Lee Moffie sailed a puck from the top of his own right circle with laser precision, slicing through traffic to a streaking senior forward Kevin Lynch. The puck found Lynch’s stick, he broke free with an open look and he buried it in the right corner.
With 3:24 left in the same period, Michigan struggled to clear the puck out of its zone, scrambling around to regain control. The Broncos capitalized on a disorganized team, though, as Colton Hargrove’s attempt from the slot found its way past goaltender Steve Racine.
The freshman netminder, who faced just 18 shots on Friday night, had another easy night between the pipes. Racine made 22 saves on just 23 shots from the Broncos.
Three minutes into the second period, Michigan’s offense opened the floodgates, using its speed to put Western Michigan on its heels.
Moffatt, too fast for the Broncos, found space in the center of the ice to bring up the puck. The junior dished to senior forward A.J. Treais, who was originally stopped by Western Michigan goaltender Slubowski, who then slid outside the crease. With the net wide open, sophomore forward Andrew Sinelli buried a shot from the slot, where he had been waiting for Treais’ pass.
The Broncos — who suffered their first loss in the CCHA playoffs under second-year coach Andy Murray Friday night — increased their pressure for the next seven minutes before a penalty put them a man down.
The Wolverines proved why they have the second-ranked power play in the CCHA, swinging the momentum in their favor when Guptill scored his first goal of the night 10 minutes into the period. Following a scramble in front of the net, where Slubowski once again spent time outside his crease, the sophomore took a loose puck and lifted it too high for the confused goalie.
“It’s one of those nights where the puck always seems to be on your stick,” said Guptill, who now has 14 goals this season. “Guys made good plays to me, and I had some good chances.”
DeBlois’s goal, 49 seconds later, prompted Murray to pull his netminder. Slubowski, second in the nation in minutes played, made 20 saves on 24 shots.
“They’ve got a real good goalie over there, and we got the best of him tonight,” Treais said. “We caught him out of position a few times, and a few of those were empty net, but just getting pucks to the net and getting guys to the net (made a difference).”
Yet whether it was Slubowski or backup, Lukas Hafner, Michigan’s offense could not be slowed.
With seconds remaining in the period, Moffatt once again brought the puck down the ice, stopping on a dime at the top of the left circle, reversing direction and flinging the puck into the slot. Guptill was there to take the puck and rip a shot too quick for Haffner to add a tally with 18 seconds remaining in the frame.
“(Moffatt) wanted to play better than he did last night,” Berenson said. “One of his strengths has been with the puck and he’s a shooter, but he made some plays tonight.”
Michigan’s penalty kill would close out the sluggish third period, where the Broncos’ momentum was all but gone. The Wolverines killed off three, third-period penalties to go a perfect 10-for-10 on the weekend.
For a team sitting in the cellar of the CCHA standings at one point this season, Michigan enters Detroit riding a wave of momentum. Three years ago in 2010, Michigan sat in seventh place in the conference standings, like this year, before making a run to win the Mason Cup.
“Good for our team,” Berenson said. “You have to give our team a lot of credit. They’ve been through a lot this year, and they’ve stuck together, and they’re having fun and having some success. We’re getting better. We have a little mojo right now, and we’re going to Joe Louis hopefully to have some more fun.”