No. 7 Michigan at Western Michigan
7:35 p.m.
Lawson Arena, Comcast Local

Jess Cox
The Wolverines hope senior Noah Ruden can build on his career high of 39 saves as they get set to face the Broncos. (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)

The echoes of the two massive hits from last Tuesday’s game at Yost Ice Arena can still be heard.

In the first period of Michigan’s last game against Western Michigan, Bronco forward Sean Weaver and Michigan freshman Jason Bailey were knocked out cold on the ice. The hits provide evidence of how physical that game began. And there is no indication that tomorrow’s matchup in Lawson Arena will be any different.

“(Western Michigan) is not as bad as their record,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Every game is a battle. They’ll play this game like it’s a Stanley Cup game. If they don’t win another game all year, they will be happy they beat Michigan.”

The Broncos sit dead last in the CCHA with 15 points and a conference record of 6-14-3. But they are a respectable 5-6-1 at home, with four of those wins coming against Ohio State, Michigan State and Northern Michigan – three teams who are still in the thick of things for the CCHA’s top four spots. With its physical brand of hockey, Western Michigan isn’t your ordinary last-place team.

“We know they’re going to come out flying, especially at their home rink,” captain Andrew Ebbett said. “They love playing there, and their fans love to see Michigan come to town.”

In the last meeting between the two teams, the Broncos jumped out to a 2-0 lead but, midway through the second period, the score was tied at three. In the end, Western Michigan’s physical style of play couldn’t hold on long enough, and Michigan broke out with four unanswered goals to win 7-3.

“We can’t let them get a lead at home like that,” Ebbett said. “They won’t let us come back. We have to be ready for that first period and keep their fans down.”

The play of Ebbett and fellow seniors Brandon Kaleniecki and goaltender Noah Ruden will be key to the Wolverines’ success. Berenson announced that he will start the Bloomfield Hills native in goal. Ruden is coming off a solid performance against Ohio State on Saturday night when he made a career-high 39 saves in a 3-2 win over the Buckeyes. For the season, Ruden is 5-5-0 with a goals-against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .916.

“He gave us a good game (against Ohio State),” Berenson said. “He kept us in a game that we probably didn’t deserve to be within a goal after the first or second period. And all you ask from your goalie is that he gives you a chance when you’re not at your best.”

No. 7 Michigan (11-7-3 CCHA, 16-10-3 overall) will hope that Kaleniecki can stay hot tonight. The Livonia native is in the midst of a five-game goal-scoring streak. According to Berenson, Kaleniecki is a “blue collar” goal scorer who is willing to fight for the puck in front of the net. Ebbett had the same sentiment, mentioning that the entire team must play more like Kaleniecki and score the “ugly goals.”

“We have to be able to work in front of the net and find your open spots,” Ebbett said. “There aren’t many pretty goals come playoff time. So, we’re looking for the ugly one and, we’re tying to get more guys to follow Kal’s lead.”

With the end of the CCHA season just three weeks away, it is now crunch time for the Wolverines, who want to finish in one of the top four spots in the CCHA to secure a bye in the conference tournament. A win tomorrow will propel the team past Michigan State for sole possession of second place.

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