Western Michigan did not start its third goaltender as expected, while Miami had to turn to its emergency netminder.
The Broncos surprised everyone by announcing Brandon Bussi would start in net, as the team’s top goaltender was injured in the first game of the season and had not dressed since.
He stopped 20 of 22 shots to earn a 5-2 win over the RedHawks at Lawson Arena on Friday.
Bussi took over in the crease for expected starter Alex Aslandis, the Broncos’ third goalie entering this season. Aslandis outplayed backup Austin Cain in Bussi’s absence, earning five wins in 13 games.
Meanwhile, Miami freshman goalie Ludvig Persson was injured in the second period, and the only RedHawks other keeper to make the trip was Grant Valentine, who finished the game between the pipes.
A collision following Western Michigan’s third and eventual game-winning goal ended Persson’s night, as the freshman was down for several minutes but did skate off under his own power.
Miami fell to 1-9-1 in its last 11 while the Broncos won their fourth straight. These teams will wrap up the regular season at Cady Arena on Sunday.
RECAP: Ronnie Attard put Western Michigan ahead 12:12 into the first period when he ripped a one-timer past Persson from the top of the left faceoff circle on the power play.
With 11 seconds left in the opening frame, Attard whipped a wrister from the same spot that was tipped home by Paul Washe to extend the Broncos’ lead to two, again on the man advantage.
Miami pulled to within one three minutes into the second period, when Matt Barry won a faceoff back to Jack Olmstead, whose wrister from the top of the faceoff circle beat Bussi.
The RedHawks tied it with 7:50 left in the middle stanza on a shorthanded breakaway by Casey Gilling, who roofed a backhander just under the crossbar.
But Western Michigan regained the lead four minutes later when a shot trickled through Persson, and Drew Worrad was able to bang home the loose puck to make it 3-2, and he kneed Persson in the head on the follow through.
Persson was down for some time before skating to the bench and down the tunnel under his own power.
With 7:28 left in regulation, the Broncos reestablished their two-goal lead when Washe centered one from behind the Miami net to Jason Polin, who played the puck from his skate to waist, where he batted it in on the power play.
WMU sealed it when Cedric Fiedler fired a shot on net from the high slot, and the rebound tricked to teammate Jamie Rome at the side of the net for an easy backhand tap-in.
STATS: Olmstead’s goal was his first as a RedHawk and the second of his collegiate career. The junior found the net once in nine games with Michigan the past two seasons.
— Gilling did not score in the first 15 games of 2020-21, but he has netted four goals in the last six games. His was Miami’s first shorthanded tally since Jan. 10, 2020.
— Barry earned the lone RedHawks assist, giving him a team-best 15 on the season and a Miami-high 17 points.
THOUGHTS: Where to start…
Guess the best place is the decisive goal, which also knocked Persson into orbit.
Persson made a stop, but the puck trickled between his legs and was sitting loose just to his right. Worrad was one of the only Broncos to see it, and he sprinted in to bat home the loose puck.
On the follow-through, he kneed Persson in the head.
Those are the facts. Now, a few thoughts…
The goal should’ve stood. The contact occurred after the puck went in.
But Worrad has to be assessed a penalty here. Intentional or not, running over a goalie while completely uncontested isn’t legal.
This was reviewed and no penalty was issued. Not sure if that play could be reviewed and a minor assessed. We’ve only seen majors handed out in the past after reviews.
Was it deliberate? Unclear, as Worrad was obviously focusing on the puck initially. But after blasting Persson in the head with his knee, he doesn’t seem to react as a he skates to the corner to celebrate with his teammates.
Wouldn’t you know it if you just kneed someone in the head hard enough to knock him down while skating by?
A few weeks ago, Minn.-Duluth was assessed a major for contact to the head in a more innocuous play vs. Miami, and we said that should’ve been a minor and not a major-plus-game-misconduct.
In short, this at least warranted a minor and consideration for a major, especially since the power plays to that point were 3-0 Western Michigan.
— But hey, after giving the Broncos four consecutive power plays, WMU was finally whistled for goaltender interference with less than two minutes left after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
And then with 1:01 left, Miami had a goal erased because of a Western Michigan penalty that was assessed after the puck grazed a Bronco, and was certainly not possessed by WMU.
Western Michigan, to its credit, cashed in on 3 of 4 power plays although it did allow the Gilling shorty.
Not blaming the officials for the ultimate outcome, but the NCHC deserves better.
— All that said, Persson needed to stop that long-range shot and didn’t. Valentine played pretty well overall but gave up a soft rebound on WMU’s final goal.
— Two major areas of criticism for Miami in this game: 1) You can’t allow your goalies to get run without making opponents pay a price, and 2) the RedHawks were atrocious at clearing their own zone.
On point one, I know there’s a segment our there that doesn’t believe pugilism has a place in NCAA hockey, but Miami’s star goalie was knocked into next week and no one really takes exception for the RedHawks, then Valentine gets run over in the closing minutes, and again, a minor push and that’s really it.
At that point, you’re down three goals with a minute left and they’re blasting your backup goalie. It’s disappointing Miami just sat there and took that. Not advocating injuring anyone, but you at least have to show your opponent it’s not OK to take out one goalie and knock down the other.
Point two: After the first 10 minutes, which were pretty even, Western Michigan set up camp in the Miami zone, largely because the RedHawks failed to clear the puck time and time again.
Over the course of 60 minutes, this will almost always prove costly.
— So Miami finally gets a power play with 1:55 left down three, sets up in the Broncos’ zone and coach Chris Bergeron doesn’t pull the goalie to set up a 6-on-4?
Then again with under a minute left he had a chance for a 6-on-3 and again left Valentine in.
Sometimes coaches will pull the goalie in a three-plus-goal deficit situation only when he feels his team deserves it. Maybe he didn’t feel like his team had earned that opportunity.
Otherwise, who cares if the final is 5-2 or 7-2?
Rico Blasi and Bergeron seem to have very different philosophies in terms of pulling goalies late.
— Scott Corbett took both minors that led the WMU power play goals in the first period, although upon slow-mo-ing, it doesn’t appear he high-sticked anyone on the second minor. The first was for slashing, as he knocked a skater’s stick out of his hand.
— To end on a positive note: Beyond the goal, this was arguably the best game of the season for Olmstead.
LINEUP CHANGES: Forwards Ryan Savage, Ben Lown and Michael Holland are still sidelined by injury.
Fortunately for the RedHawks, Joey Cassetti and Monte Graham returned after both had missed two games.
Cassetti and Graham replaced Caleb Rule and Brian Silver, and MU went with eight defensemen again, with Bray Crowder again shifting up front.
STANDINGS: Colorado College also lost, so Miami and CC remain tied for last place in the NCHC with 18 points, with the Tigers holding two games in hand over the RedHawks.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Persson has been Miami’s MVP this season, and to see the officials and his teammates do nothing when he was clearly hurt by, at the very least clumsiness and at most intent to injure, is difficult to watch.
Standing up for star teammates, especially goalies, is still an expectation in the game.
The RedHawks’ chance at advancing to the Frozen Faceoff – much less the NCAA Tournament – are miniscule. Their odds if Persson is unable to return this season are non-existent.