KALAMAZOO — With Michigan leading No. 9 Western Michigan 2-0 in Friday’s first period, it sure felt like last season’s explosive Wolverines were the ones on the ice. But the offense fell dormant eventually, and the Broncos’ scorers awoke to defeat Michigan, 3-2.
After Bronco goalie Frank Slubowski erased two high-quality scoring chances erased in the game’s opening minute, it would’ve been more like this year’s offense to go into a shell immediately.
Instead, two stars of 2011-12 — sophomore forwards Phil Di Giuseppe and Alex Guptill — finally rang in the new year as both scored in the opening six minutes.
“I liked our start,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Tonight I liked our team effort all through the game.”
Almost right off the opening faceoff, freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba sailed a cross-crease pass to junior forward Derek DeBlois who was robbed by Slubowski. Seconds later, sophomore forward Zach Hyman had an equally enticing scoring chance, only to have a stick-less Slubowski come up with a blocker save.
Finally, Di Giuseppe, with help from freshman forward Boo Nieves, made the Broncos pay for letting the Wolverines walk all over them early.
Nieves skated through the slot, using his speed to cruise past three Western Michigan players in the process. At the last possible second, he passed the puck to Di Giuseppe, who finished for his fifth goal of the season.
“I was just following up the play going to the net like we always do, and I didn’t think he was going to get by, but he did and gave me a backdoor tap,” said Di Giuseppe. “It was a great play by him and I was just there.”
One minute and 46 seconds later, Michigan accomplished an even more difficult task than taking a two-goal lead on one of the league’s top teams — scoring on the vaunted Western Michigan penalty kill, ranked first in the CCHA. Guptill, standing near the crease, received a pass from senior forward Kevin Lynch and scored. The goal was just the Wolverines’ 14th on the power play this season.
The Broncos recuperated for the second half of the period, showing signs of offensive life after playing most of the first 10 minutes in their own zone. Trevor Elias responded first for Western Michigan after a neutral-zone turnover, beating junior goaltender Adam Janecyk, who started his fourth-straight game.
With just one minute left in the first period, Jordan Oesterle scored the equalizer, rifling a shot from the blue line that Janecyk couldn’t catch up to.
In the opening 10 minutes of the second period, the Michigan penalty killers were called upon to kill of their first two infractions of the night — a hooking call on Di Giuseppe, and a tripping penalty on junior defenseman Jon Merrill. The Wolverines returned to even strength both times with ease, allowing just one combined shot between the pair of two-minute minors.
But the momentum spike that came with the penalty kills didn’t last. With four minutes to play in the second frame, Western Michigan’s Colton Hargrove received a pass from Justin Kovacs, situated behind the Michigan goal. Hargrove one-timed it into the net, giving the Broncos the 3-2 lead. Western Michigan nearly doubled up the Wolverines on the shot chart in the second period, 15-8.
Michigan returned to the power play with 9:05 to play in the game after Hyman was drilled into the boards. Junior forward Luke Moffatt had two great looks at net in the crease but failed to put the finishing touches on either as the power-play chance skipped away from the Wolverines.
With 6:47 remaining in the game, play was stopped due to a fire alarm at Lawson Ice Arena, where the Broncos beat the Wolverines for the first time since 2003. After a delay of a couple minutes, the game resumed.
“It slows the momentum down in the third period,” Berenson said of the stoppage. “We were in their zone, we were playing well. But we can’t complain about that.”
After pulling Janecyk, Michigan failed to find an equalizer of its own, and it fell to 8-15-2 on the season, including a 1-5-2 clip in away contests.