Third period goals by Ian Slater and Kevin Connauton, both from innocent-looking shots from the point allowed Western Michigan to eke out a 2-1 upset win over eighth-ranked Michigan Friday night at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor.
Michigan had entered the final period with a slim one goal margin on Carl Hagelin’s second period power-play goal, but the Broncos found the lesser-travelled road to the win despite being outshot by the Wolverines in the game, 34-17.
Just six seconds after Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer had a spectacular two save post-to-post sequence, Ian Slater tipped in Tyler Ludwig’s shot from the point at 1:38of the final stanza. The two teams traded scoring chances until Connauton stepped over the blueline at the left point and floated a shot past Sauer at 15:38.
“I was just following up the play,” said Connauton of his game-winner. “There was a turnover at the blueline. I took a couple of hard strides to keep it in the zone. Their guy was coming up on me and it thought, ‘just throw it on the net’. I just took a quick snap shot and I watched it the whole way. I don’t think he (Sauer) saw it. I saw it hit the mesh, straight in. I was really just trying to get it on goal, hopefully just get a face-off in the zone.”
The game’s importance to the Broncos and his role in the win was evident to Connauton, though.
“Our senior class had won here before and they helped all the guys out,” said the freshman blueliner. “They let us know what we had to do. I never thought I’d have the GWG here at Michigan when I was growing up, but it’s pretty exciting. Now, we have to continue on and get the sweep tomorrow.”
The Western Michigan victory, their first CCHA win of the season, broke a 10-0-2 Michigan home streak stretching back to last season.
Junior Bronco netminder Riley Gill turned aside 33 Michigan shots while Sauer stopped 15 Western Michigan attempts.
Gill’s high save total belied the lack of quality scoring chances by the Wolverines. Bronco defensemen managed to keep most of Michigan’s shot from around the perimeter of the offensive zone.
Gill was happy to get the workload, though.
“That’s good for a goalie,” said Gill. “You get about ten shots a period. You could ask any goalie and they’d want about 30 to 35 shots in a night. It keeps you in the game. Our guys kept them to the outside. On a lot of the shots, you could just eat the rebounds. You know, I just got it done tonight.”
“I just try to stay aggressive, keep doing what I’m doing,” said Gill of the late flurry of Michigan shots after the Broncos took the lead. “Don’t do anything different. Treat it like it’s the first period.”
Western Michigan Head coach Jim Culhane preferred single word descriptions of Gill’s performance.
“Solid. Reliable. Outstanding,” said Culhane of Gill’s performance.
“Western Michigan was a very frustrating team to play against,” said Hagelin of the Bronco’s physical, pressuring style. “They are physical and they hit a lot. But, we just couldn’t get the puck in the net. We just didn’t have the puck luck that we needed to win a game like this.”
“Goals against are so precious,” said Michigan Head coach Red Berenson. “You know that all these games are going to be close games. There is not much difference between these teams, so you just can’t give up goals that easily.”
Western Michigan (2-6-3, 1-3-3-1 CCHA) and Michigan (7-4-0, 4-3-0-0 CCHA) renew the battle in Kalamazoo Saturday night in the final game of their two game weekend set.