KALAMAZOO — When the Michigan and Western Michigan hockey teams met at Lawson Ice Arena in January, early leads turned to late collapses for the Wolverines.
Luckily for them, Jacob Trouba was in top form to stop the bleeding Friday night — twice.
“I think we’re a different team now,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We’ve got a different confidence level.”
The freshman defenseman Trouba scored two go-ahead goals, including the eventual game winner, as Michigan hung on to take Game one of the CCHA quarterfinals from the Broncos, 4-3.
Western Michigan grabbed some of the early momentum and nearly scored when Michigan goalie Steve Racine let up a rebound just in front of the crease before Trouba knocked it out of harm’s way. Then, it was Racine’s turn to bail the team out with a beautiful post-to-post save immediately after.
But it was the unselfishness of senior forward Kevin Lynch that allowed the Wolverines to take the lead in the first period. At the 8:43 mark, Lynch was quickly closing in on Bronco netminder Frank Slubowski. Instead of taking the shot, he dished to sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe who sniped into the top corner of the net for the game’s initial tally.
Sixteen seconds later, Michigan was tasked with stopping the impressive Western Michigan power play. Using a crucial clearance from sophomore forward Travis Lynch and another massive save from Racine, the Wolverines were successful on the disadvantage.
The period ended with a display of effort that exemplified the Michigan first period. After Kevin Lynch took a penalty to negate a Wolverine power play, junior forward Derek DeBlois got in front of a slapshot from Danny Dekeyser as time expired in the period. His block of a shot that seemed fated for the back of the net kept Michigan ahead by two goals after 20 minutes.
But in the second period, the tides began to turn as they have all season for the Wolverines after a strong first period.
The Broncos got on the board by way of a Chase Balisy wrister from the slot with nobody in the vicinity.
Just over a minute later, Western Michigan equalized off a snipe from Colton Hargrove from the left hash into the upper-right corner of the net.
With things spiraling out of control, Trouba decided to take matters into his own hands. He kept the puck himself through the neutral zone and changed from a slapshot to a quick wrister that beat Slubowski at 7:13 of the middle period.
“He’s been a force on defense all year, but he’s also been on a force on offense,” Berenson said. “When he’s got that shot going, he’s got a bullet.”
But the 3-2 lead was short-lived. Midway through the frame, with Racine screened completely, Josh Pitt redirected a Kenney Morrison point shot into the net. The second period ended with the game tied at three after Michigan came up empty-handed on its first true power-play chance of the night.
The Wolverines would be much more productive on their next man-advantage opportunity, though. About midway through the third period, Trouba took a pass across the blue line from senior captain A.J. Treais and rifled a shot past Slubowski for the 4-3 lead.
“The game was on the line,” Berenson said of the decisive power play. “Goals were precious. Both goalies were playing well. There wasn’t a lot of room on the ice. I thought that was a gutsy effort by our team.”
After a frantic last 45 seconds or so with the Western Michigan net empty, the Wolverines held off the Broncos to take the 1-0 series lead.
“We’re absolutely willing to do whatever it takes not to let in a goal,” said senior defenseman Lee Moffie about the defense holding a late one-goal lead. “You’re getting in front of every shot, you’re diving, you’re desperate. More importantly, you’re playing sound defense.”
Berenson said he was expecting a low-scoring game, but he thought his team handled the high-scoring affair admirably.
Game two is Saturday night at 7:05, and if it’s up to Trouba, Michigan would much prefer to end the series then, not Sunday.
“It’s St. Patrick’s Day Sunday,” he deadpanned.