KALAMAZOO – As it often has this season, a five-on-three power play was the turning point in a Michigan hockey game. And once again, it was the Wolverines who had to fight off the disadvantage.
With the score tied 2-2, Michigan was down two men six minutes into the second period.
The penalty killers bent but didn’t break and three minutes later, sophomore Brandon Naurato scored a power-play goal to put Michigan up 3-2.
Despite the Broncos’ physical play, Michigan never looked back en route to a 7-4 CCHA win.
It was the Wolverines’ fifth straight win, and seventh in eight games.
Michigan jumped out to an early lead when junior Kevin Porter skated past three Western Michigan players and found sophomore Andrew Cogliano open in the slot. Cogliano buried a wrist shot glove side for a power-play goal just over three minutes into the game.
Western Michigan tied the game up just over a minute following Cogliano’s tally.
When Bronco Mark Letestu, grabbed the puck at his own blue line then skated in alone on Michigan goalie Billy Sauer. Letestu put a shot through Sauer’s five-hole, giving the Broncos one goal on just one shot.
Penalties defined the first period as referee Scott Hoberg called nine minor penalties in the first frame. Though the Wolverines had six first-period chances to the Broncos three, each team managed just one power-play tally in the period.
Throughout the game, Hoberg kept up his reputation as a strict official. The former American Hockey League referee awarded 18 power plays, and fewer than 35 minutes were played at even strength.
Tensions were high even in the first period with both sides seeking out big hits. The Broncos relied on a physical defense to counteract Michigan’s superior skating ability.
Sophomore Travis Turnbull’s four-on-four goal put Michigan ahead again at 8:56. Turnbull received a precision pass from T.J. Hensick then stepped around a Bronco defenseman before beating Daniel Bellissimo to make the score 2-1. Hensick’s assist was his 200th career point.
Bill Muckalt (1995-98) (226) was the last Wolverine to amass 200 points in his career. Hensick also set a new career high in assists with his 36th and tallied four points on the night.
It looked as though Michigan (15-6-0 CCHA, 20-9-0 overall) would hold its lead going into the first intermission, but Hensick took a silly penalty behind the play. Thirty-one seconds later, a puck bounced into the net off Paul Szczechura’s, stick tying the game, 2-2.
After Naurato put the Wolverines ahead, Hensick and Johnson each scored to make the Wolverine lead 5-2 going into the third period.
Johnson’s goal came off a blistering slap shot and the sophomore has been on a tear in recently, including eight points against Ferris State last weekend.
After being outshot 11-10 in the first period, Michigan turned on the offense and finished the game with a 36-24 shot advantage. As Michigan pulled away with the game, Western Michigan (9-11-1, 12-14-1) grew increasingly confrontational and fighting broke out around the Michigan net four minutes into the final period.