NCHC: Blacker's 44 saves give WMU its first sweep of North Dakota

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Freshman goaltender Ben Blacker made a career-high 44 saves for No. 8 Western Michigan on Saturday night and helped the Broncos hold on for a 3-2 victory over No. 13 North Dakota. The win gave the Broncos’ their first-ever weekend series sweep and first season series win against the Fighting Hawks.

“We knew that North Dakota would bring their best tonight and they certainly did,” said Broncos coach Andy Murray. “They’re such a strong program, they’ve got a lot of character over there, and tremendous coaches that motivate them every day to play as hard as they can.”

Broncos defenseman Taylor Fleming’s first goal of the season was the game winner for the hosts at 3:03 of the second. Fleming lasered a shot home from the high slot on a face-off win from forward Aaron Hadley to give Western Michigan a 3-1 lead.

Forward Matheson Iacopelli opened scoring for the hosts at 3:52 after Mike McKee snagged a North Dakota turnover and found the Chicago Blackhawks draft pick near the right side face-off dot. Iacopelli then wristed a shot high and to the glove side.

Iacopelli, the team leader in points and goals, continued to pester the visitors’ defensive pairings and then slotted home a five-hole shot from almost the same spot at 13:52, the assist coming from captain Sheldon Dries.

“Two of the goals that we gave up, really, were off-our-tape turnovers,” said Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry. “Obviously, the start is key. I think, instead of chasing games, we’ve got to try and lead games.”

After the first period, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Broncos 34-7 (and 46-19 for the game), a characteristic of the game not lost on Western Michigan’s bench boss.

“There’s something to be said for finding a way to win,” Murray said. “We’ve been in some situations where we’ve out-chanced teams and it hasn’t gone our way.”

North Dakota, gaining steam at this point, responded to Fleming’s tally just nine seconds later as Shane Gersich streaked down the left side slot and buried the Fighting Hawks’ first goal low and to the stick side on assists from Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser.

Play got into an end-to-end flow following the Gerisch goal and the Hawks might have made it closer sooner, but a highlight-reel save by Blacker kept the Broncos ahead.

“I think we dominated every category except the scoreboard again,” said Berry. “Tonight was a tough night in the fact that a lot of our guys are banged up; they persevered and found a way to put in a good effort.”

The visitors kept things interesting after drawing a tripping minor on Western Michigan defenseman Scott Moldenhauer midway through the third period. Fighting Hawks defenseman Tucker Poolman thundered home an opposite-post shot at 14:41 on assists from Boeser and Jost, who won 16 face-offs.

“Commend the character in our locker room,” Berry said. “As far as coming out with an effort like that tonight, we’re a resilient group. That’s what North Dakota is.”

The Fighting Hawks threatened to tie the score late, firing six shots on net inside of the final 3:31, but Blacker and the Broncos’ skaters stood tall.

“Ben made 44 saves and we needed every single one of them,” Murray. “The way that the game turned out, it was just tooth and nail to the end. We knew that they were not going to go away.”

NCHC roundup

Colorado College 2, No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth 2

Defenseman Cole McCaskill scored with 1:58 remaining to lift the Tigers into a tie with the Bulldogs at Colorado Springs, Colo. It was the second late-period goal of the night for CC, which got on the board with seven seconds to play in the second period on Matt Hansen’s power-play goal. Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo scored in the first 1:47 of the game for Minnesota-Duluth, which was outshot 39-25. Hunter Miska made 37 saves, while Alex Leclerc stopped 23 shots for the Tigers.

No. 2 Denver 5, Miami 2

Troy Terry and Emil Romig’s second goals of the game allowed the Pioneers to pull away from a 2-2 tie at Oxford, Ohio. Denver, which also got a goal from Tariq Hammond and 23 saves from Tanner Jaillet, swept its first road series of the season. Carson Meyer gave the RedHawks an early lead and teammate Grant Hutton answered Romig’s first goal to make 2-2. Ryan Larkin had 33 saves for Miami.

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