Western Michigan extended its winning streak to four games and kept Lake Superior State winless in the CCHA by completing a weekend sweep of the Lakers with a 3-0 victory at Lawson Ice Arena.
The Broncos took advantage of the conference’s worst penalty kill by tallying all three goals with the man-advantage. WMU came into Saturday’s contest scoreless on the power play in its last three games. By going 0-for-5 on the evening, the Laker power play continues to struggle, going 0-for-42 over its last eight games.
WMU sophomore goaltender Mike Mantua responded to being scratched from Friday’s contest with 22 saves to record his first shutout of the season, the third of his career. LSSU sophomore goaltender Terry Denike made 20 saves in defeat.
LSSU head coach Frank Anzalone had strong words following the game.
“I think we have some innate ability to win a game here, but we’re also at the point where we have a lot of young players, we don’t have a lot of experience, we don’t have enough talent for a good power play, and we are just where we are.
“It’s hard; I’ve never been 0-and-10. I’ve never experienced this. I’ve always been able to pull teams through storms and find ways to do stuff, but we’re just not at the level of a lot of the teams in our league, right now. This is just an example of where the program went, and how long and hard it is going to be to bring it back.”
“You can only go one weekend at a time and just keep recruiting and developing, and hopefully a year or two down the road, we’re answering questions like ‘What a great sweep’ or ‘What a great split at Michigan State.’ But right now, we’re at ground zero and we need to keep going forward the best we can.”
Paul Davies opened the scoring at 8:38 of the first period with his sixth goal of the season when the junior forward took his time before firing a shot through traffic past Denike with the man-advantage to put WMU up 1-0.
Despite the Laker defense slowing the WMU attack in the second period, the Broncos extended their lead to two goals at 16:46 after the team’s leading scorer, Brent Walton, fed defenseman Dave Cousineau with a nice pass across the slot, which the senior one-timed into the Laker net.
“We played a ton of minutes last night with a shorter bench,” said Culhane, “and at that point, we hit the wall a little bit. We came in here after that second period with a two-goal lead and talked about finishing it off, making sure we played sound defensively in the third period, and I was really pleased with the way we played at the end.”
WMU’s final goal of the contest took place at 14:18 of the third period. Sophomore forward Jeremy Cheyne scored his first goal of the season by banging home his own rebound.
LSSU dressed 14 underclassmen on the night, including eight freshmen. That fact wasn’t lost on Anzalone.
“We can’t score. We don’t have snipers yet. It’s very rare that you get a freshman that can come in on a team like ours and score a lot of goals; we don’t a strong supporting cast. So even if we had a freshman who could do that, he’d be better off on a stronger team to do that.
“When you’re on a team that’s not real strong depth-wise, that freshman can’t show it anyway, and we don’t have scoring in the upperclass. For us, it’s a battle. We don’t have natural skilled guys, and those we do are in the younger class. I can understand and make sense of this all, I just don’t really like the taste of it. … We are moving forward despite the fact it doesn’t look like it.
“We have to keep sucking up tough losses. This is a very tough situation, but it’s where we are. I don’t think we’re going to be able to change it simply.”
The sweep brings WMU back to .500 for the first time since October 19. The Lakers have dropped ten straight games.
Culhane believes Anzalone will be able to bring the Lakers back to respectability.
“I don’t think they’re that far away, to tell you the truth. They are 0-and-10 here in the league, but they’ve been in every game. Tonight, five-on- five, it’s an even game. We were fortunate tonight to score some goals on the power play, but I don’t think they are that far away.”
You look at their lineup, they have eight or 10 freshmen playing every night, so it’s going to be tough. Knowing Frank, he has a plan. He’s won a national championship at Lake Superior with a lot of the same type of bodies that you saw tonight. They are going to get bigger, stronger, understand the system he has in place, and just get better. The people in the Soo just need to be patient and I’m sure Frank will right the ship.”
Western Michigan (7-7-1, 6-6-0 CCHA) hosts No. 7 Cornell of the ECAC next weekend while Lake Superior State (3-11-0, 0-10-0 CCHA) takes on Nebraska-Omaha in Sault Ste. Marie.