Western Michigan won a thrilling first round matchup, but fell just short of a trip to the Frozen Four.
Western Michigan Broncos (23-12-1) Ranked #4
The Broncos loaded up and shipped out to Worcester for their NCAA Tournament matchup with Northeastern as the lone MAC representative with both Miami and Bowling Green failing to qualify for post-season play.
The college hockey NCAA Tournament essentially starts at the “Sweet Sixteen”, so Western Michigan was just four more wins away from a national championship. The first team in their path was Northeastern out of the Hockey East conference. Western Michigan was regional #1 seed, while Northeastern was the #4.
Western Michigan started the game off on the right foot with Cole Gallant scoring the opening goal part way through the first period. This 1-0 lead would hold into the first intermission. The second period came and went without a score from either team, so we headed to the third period with just one goal separating the teams.
Northeastern scored the equalizer late in the third and we were headed to overtime. Just over a minute and a half into the extra period, Luke Grainger intercepted a clearance attempt from the Northeastern goalie, snuck behind the net, and threw a wrap-around attempt on goal. It appeared that the goalie made the save and play continued. The goalie smothered the puck seconds later to stop play. The officials decided to take another look at the play, so we headed to replay with the game on the line.
After a tense review, it was determined that the puck had just barely crossed the goal line. Just barely is good enough though, so the goal was good and the Broncos took the 2-1 overtime win. This marked the first NCAA Tournament win in program history for Western Michigan.
The Broncos advanced to the Worcester Regional Final to take on Minnesota for a ticket to Boston for the Frozen Four.
The matchup with the Golden Gophers got off to a rough start. Minnesota scored the first goal at the 10:10 mark in the first period, and did so while absolutely smothering the Broncos. Western Michigan managed just four shots during the first period, but not all was lost as they headed into the intermission down just one score. The Broncos picked up the pace in the second period, outshooting the Golden Gophers, but neither team was able to tally a goal.
The puck dropped on the third period with Western Michigan needing a goal to keep their season alive. These hopes started to crumble a little bit more as Minnesota netted a power play goal just 33 seconds into the third period to stretch their lead to two goals. The Golden Gophers added a shorthanded goal later in the period to put the Broncos down 3-0. The final buzzer sounded and Minnesota held their lead to punch their ticket to Boston and end Western Michigan’s season.
It’s always disappointing to have your season end, but Western Michigan certainly had a season to remember. They advanced to the NCHC tournament final, claimed their first-ever NCAA tournament win, defeated #1 ranked (at the time) in-state rival Michigan on their own ice, and tallied their most wins in almost 25 years. They accomplished all of this with Pat Ferschweiler coaching in his first year with the Broncos, setting a new program record for wins by a first-year coach.
The future is nothing but bright for WMU hockey.