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Michigan hockey takes its lumps in series split with Broncos

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Western Michigan handed the Wolverines their first loss of the season before a Saturday rebound.

Duel In The D: Michigan v Michigan State
Nick Blankenburg scored an overtime winner to salvage a series split against Western Michigan.
Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines’ hockey team got dragged back down to earth this weekend.

No. 17 Western Michigan, a tough veteran squad that was never going to be blinded by the Wolverines’ dazzling star power, came into Yost Ice Arena and knocked them on their back Friday night by a score of 5-2. Michigan picked up the pieces and won, 3-2, in overtime Saturday in Kalamazoo, but it wasn’t any easier and the Broncos outshot the Wolverines in both games.

With the series split — Michigan moved to 5-1 on the year — its fresh No. 1 ranking maybe in jeopardy. Western Michigan improved to 3-1 and looks deserving of a move up.

The Wolverines learned the hard way things aren’t always going to be as easy as they seemed at times during the season’s first two weeks, but this weekend was just as much about Western Michigan. The Broncos looked like a team that will really compete in the tough NCHC this season. Their physical style of play mostly neutralized Michigan’s skill and speed, and their power play was lethal, striking four times in eight opportunities.

WMU took control early Friday night and didn’t relinquish it. The Wolverines had just two shots on goal in the opening minutes, both coming on an early power play. Just before the end of the first period, Aidan Fulp made it 1-0, and the Broncos scored twice more early in the second.

Luke Hughes scored on a second-chance opportunity midway through the second period. Two minutes later, though, Dylan Wendt scored for WMU to push it back to a three-goal game.

The Broncos threatened to ice the game early in the third period, putting eight shots on Erik Portillo in an eight-minute span. But Michigan killed off a penalty and found a spark from it, scoring just 30 seconds later on a redirection by Kent Johnson in front of the net.

Western Michigan, however, went right back to controlling the game after that. The Broncos outshot the Wolverines 8-2 in the next few minutes and took advantage of a Brendan Brisson penalty to seal the win thanks to a Cole Gallant power-play goal.

Saturday’s game began in a similar fashion to Friday’s, with WMU out-chancing Michigan in the opening minutes, but a Bronco penalty changed things this time around. Johnson found Brisson in his office near the right face-off circle and the sophomore hammered the puck past Brandon Bussi for a 1-0 lead.

Owen Power had a chance to make it a two-goal lead later in the first period but he hit the post on a breakaway, the second time the Wolverines rang one off the pipe in the first 20 minutes.

As far as momentum goes, it didn’t matter much. Early in the second period, Hughes started a transition opportunity and shuttled it to Garrett Van Wyhe, who threw the puck on goal. Bussi made the save but surrendered a big rebound which found the stick of Nolan Moyle.

The Broncos responded furiously, putting four shots on net in a one-minute span after killing off a penalty. They earned a penalty of their own and Ethen Frank scored just 17 seconds into it to make it 2-1. With six seconds left in the second period, Drew Worrad tied the game on another power-play goal.

A scoreless third period sent the game to overtime, where Michigan finally dominated. Nick Blankenburg, who came close to giving Michigan the lead after ringing the post in the first period, got a second chance and delivered. Thomas Bordeleau worked around Josh Passolt in the corner and sent a backhander across the ice, and the senior defenseman was there to go top-shelf on Bussi.

It’s not like the Wolverines were actually going to go unbeaten the entire year. But for their first loss to come when it did, in the way it did, was shocking to say the least. They do deserve credit for staying composed enough to regroup for a road win Saturday, even pulling it out after Western Michigan came back to tie it.

Michigan will be back in action when it hosts Wisconsin this Thursday and Friday.