KALAMAZOO — Frank Slubowski knelt in front of the net, head hanging in exhaustion.
The Western Michigan goaltender had just knocked away the second of three shots with his glove, unable to snag the puck in the air.
It had only been a minute.
And it was only the beginning of the barrage he would face all night. But the sophomore held his ground, as the ninth-ranked Broncos defeated Michigan on Friday, 3-2. The win gave Western Michigan (15-6-4, 10-4-2-1) sole control of first place in the CCHA.
“We won tonight, and that’s it,” said Western Michigan coach Andy Murray. “We came back in the room and the guys were kind of sitting around with their heads down and I had to remind them that we just won. We just won a big game here tonight, against an opponent who was very determined.”
Despite being outshot 30-26 on the night, the Broncos took advantage of scoring opportunities late in the first period to swing momentum back in its favor at the loud and boisterous Lawson Ice Arena.
The Wolverines (8-15-2 overall, 5-12-2-2 CCHA) opened up the scoring to quiet the crowd quickly, though, capitalizing on a Western Michigan turnover near center ice.
Freshman forward Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves took the puck off the turnover down center ice, squeezing between a trio of defenders in the Broncos’ zone. The Michigan leader in assists skated to the left of Slubowski before he crossed a quick pass to freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe, streaking down unnoticed. Di Giuseppe buried the puck just over four minutes into the game.
Less than two minutes later, sophomore forward Alex Guptill tacked on another goal for the Wolverines, continuing the early barrage on Slubowski. Guptill was on the receiving end of a smooth one-timer from freshman forward Andrew Copp during Michgan’s second power play, nearly silencing the Western faithful.
But following 10 minutes of playing in its own zone, Western Michigan turned the tables and the Wolverines failed to handle the pressure.
The Broncos first goal came nine minutes into the period when senior forward Trevor Elias beat a lagging Michigan defense down the ice. The Calgary native pushed the puck down the left side of the ice, flipping it past junior netminder Adam Janecyk to pull within one.
The real momentum swing came late in the period, though, as sophomore defenseman Jordan Oesterle found the back of the net all the way from the blue line to tie the game for Western Michigan.
Having looked like the better team to begin the night, Michigan appeared to have had the wind knocked out of them for a majority of the time afterwards.
“We got off to a good start, and then we give up those five-on-five goals and they get back in the game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We know that they are going to come back and that they are going to push back. We have got to eliminate those goals.”
The deciding goal came four minutes into the second period for the Broncos when freshman forward Colton Hargrove tallied his third goal on a one-timer from sophomore forward Justin Kovacs.
With the Wolverines in desperation mode, Western Michigan hung on for the ensuing attack in the third period. Slubowski handled only 10 shots in the period, yet also faced unlucky bounces off his own teammates.
With 6:47 to go in the game, Michigan’s attack was slowed, not by the Broncos, but by a fire alarm in Lawson Ice Arena. The Wolverines’ energy didn’t fall off in the short break, but the stoppage meant a reset for a team hoping to improve upon a 1-9-1 record when trailing after two period entering tonight.
“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.”
With an extra man in the waning minutes of the game, Slubowski held on to the victory, finishing with 28 saves and his 15th win of the season.
“I thought Frank played solid in net tonight,” Murray said. “He had a lot more shots then we would have like, and certainly a lot more than we’re used to.”
The victory was the Bronco’s fourth in five games in the past two years and their first win at home over Michigan since 2003.
“We haven’t been able to play Michigan at home very often,” Elias said. “I believe this is my first time in the four years that I’ve been here. I think it shows you where this program is going.”