KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Tied 2-2 in overtime, sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau streamed down the ice with speed, attracting defenders and leaving senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg open on the right wing.
Blankenburg corralled Bordeleau’s pass in stride, sniping it past goaltender Brandon Bussi for the game-deciding goal. The raucous crowd in Lawson Ice Arena was silenced, with the No. 1 Michigan hockey team (5-1 overall) celebrating in front of the No. 17 Western Michigan (3-1) student section, winning 3-2 and denying the Broncos the opportunity to sweep the home-and-home.
“(It was a) great win, great, great bounce back,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I really liked the compete level of our team … (I) like the comeback after a tough game last night.”
Western Michigan started hot in front of their electric home crowd, firing off a barrage of shots at sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo to open up play. Six minutes in, Western Michigan controlled possession, winning five faceoffs to Michigan’s one, keeping the Wolverines in their defensive zone.
Midway through the first period, Blankenburg and sophomore defenseman Owen Power were crushed in succession into the boards to the left of Portillo. The hits on two of the Wolverines’ defensive pillars encapsulated the beginning of the game, but Michigan settled into the belligerent environment via its first power play of the night.
With seven minutes left in the period, the Wolverine power play took the ice, looking far-crisper than its fruitless performance the night prior. Clean passes ensured Michigan control throughout and a quick pass from sophomore forward Kent Johnson led to a one-timer goal from sophomore forward Brendan Brisson on the right side, who flailed his arms at the Western Michigan student section in celebration.
Both teams appeared more familiar with each other and less aggressive to open the second period, with the puck remaining in the neutral zone throughout the first three minutes of play.
Nearly five minutes in, the Wolverines made a case for control over the second frame.
Following sprawling saves from Portillo to stop quality shots from forward Paul Washe and defenseman Ronnie Attard, Michigan quickly skated down the ice. Senior forward Garrett Van Whye reflected the puck hard off Bussi, who wasn’t able to corral it. Senior forward Nolan Moyle secured the rebound, instantly taking the puck top-shelf to expand the Wolverines’ lead to 2-0.
The Broncos, however, were unfazed by the two goal deficit, quickly bouncing back.
Western Michigan dominated Michigan’s power play a minute later. Forward Ethen Frank created a turnover with nifty stick work, creating a breakaway. Freshman forward Dylan Duke slashed at Frank’s legs to eliminate the threat.
Frank was awarded a penalty shot, and although saved easily by Portillo using his chest, the Broncos took momentum.
Only 10 seconds into a Western Michigan power play following an interference call halfway through the period, Frank cut the deficit in half. Defenseman Michael Joyaux’s strong shot from the right faceoff circle left Portillo out of position when the rebound arrived at Frank’s stick, who scored easily from the left.
In the waning minutes of the period, a series of skirmishes gave the Broncos a four-on-three advantage. They capitalized on the opportunity when Joyauk fired the puck across the ice to forward Drew Worrad, who tied the game with a flick of the wrist in front of the goal.
As Blankenburg chased the puck into the Wolverines’ defensive zone five minutes into the third period, he was called for interference when challenging a Western Michigan skater. The man-up advantage came at a pivotal juncture of the affair, and through the first minute it was largely quiet.
With the clock winding down in the power play, a flurry of shots from the Broncos caused an active Portilo to lose his stick. He stayed calm, redirecting a shot with his shoulder pads, and when even-strength resumed, the game remained tied.
“(Portillo’s) really emerged as a leader on this team,” Pearson said. “I give him a lot of credit … he had to make some huge saves.”
Bronco freshman Tim Washe looked like he put the game away with a right corner goal from the blue line with less than two minutes left, but further review deemed the play a high-sticking, leading to a sudden death overtime.
“The guys, they knew it (was a high-sticking) right away,” Pearson said. “… Tough break for them but a great break for us, and you have to take advantage of your breaks, especially on the road.”
Once overtime commenced, Michigan took advantage and control of the game. It pounced on Western Michigan with a series of strong shots, sneaking out of a hostile environment in Kalamazoo with the win.