Whether you prefer the term “puck luck” or “getting a bounce,” Western Michigan had neither in the second period of its 3-1 West Regional semifinal loss to North Dakota on Saturday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.
Unfortunate deflections, a disallowed goal and bouncing pucks left the Broncos with nothing to show for their efforts in a middle period that saw them outshoot the Fighting Sioux 13-10.
Already trailing 1-0 after a first period mostly carried by North Dakota, Western Michigan came out of the dressing room for the second period with a vengeance. The Broncos dominated the first three minutes of the second and had UND seemingly on the ropes as they sought the tying goal.
But shortly thereafter, a Brock Nelson shot from the right circle deflected off WMU’s Luke Witkowski and hit Witkowski’s teammate Matt Tennyson at the right post before falling to rest in the crease behind Broncos goalie Frank Slubowski.
North Dakota’s Corban Knight was in the right place at the right time to pounce on the loose puck for a two-goal North Dakota lead. But after what could have been a devastating sequence for Western Michigan, the Broncos forged ahead.
“When that second one went in, I don’t think it took any wind out of our sail,” said Broncos right wing Kyle O’Kane, who scored Western Michigan’s lone goal later in the period. “I think if you watched the game, we still kept going.”
Broncos coach Andy Murray saw things similarly.
“There’s quite a bit been made of that second goal and I thought we played even played better after that, we were even more determined,” said Murray. “That’s kind of our trademark, that we just continue to play.”
Western Michigan continued to press forward, closing the gap to one on O’Kane’s breakaway goal at 12:57. It appeared to tie the game less than two minutes later when a floating puck hit WMU’s Ian Slater and crossed the line behind North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell.
The official immediately waved off the goal and, following a lengthy review, the call was confirmed due to the net becoming dislodged in the chaos. Despite the misfortune, Murray and his team immediately put it behind them and were prepared to move forward.
“When the referee wanted to come over and give me an explanation I just waved him away because, what are you going to do?” Murray said. “We just wanted to keep the game going. We were playing well at that point and we talked about it on the bench that, either way, we were going to continue to play hard.
“College referees talk to the coaches way too much. Just go about your business and that’s fine.”
“Obviously, it’s a huge turning point in the game,” said O’Kane. “We said to ourselves either way, if it’s a goal or not, we’re going to continue to press hard and continue to get pucks deep and get to the net and work hard.”
The Broncos were victimized by a few more unfortunate bounces, including a puck that wouldn’t settle for left wing Will Kessel on a glorious rebound opportunity with just over a minute to go.
“Any time that you can’t find the back of the net it’s frustrating,” said O’Kane. “Especially after that rough first period we kind of had, I thought we bounced back very well and I think we were playing hard all night.”