KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Western Michigan scored three goals in less than two minutes to rally past Minnesota Duluth in the third period on Friday for a 5-3 victory in NCHC play at Lawson Arena.
The fourth-ranked Bulldogs, who are back at No. 19 WMU at 6:05 p.m. CT on Saturday, led 3-2 going into the third period after a pair of second period power play goals.
That lead held until the seven-minute mark of the third when Broncos senior center and captain Hugh McGing set up junior center Austin Rueschhoff for the game-tying goal and then scored the game-winner himself 29 seconds later.
Fourth-line freshman wing Jason Polin put the Broncos up by two 1:49 after Rueschhoff tied it.
“They’re a team that when it gets on a roll, they can go, especially here (at Lawson),” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “Just some loose coverage, one was off the rush, we made a bad read, another was poor coverage.
“Defense is hard work, but we had plenty of chances to score a lot more than three with 40 shots on net. We had a lot of second and third chances lying around there. We have to battle harder there, too.”
The Broncos’ first lead, a 2-1 advantage, came three minutes into the second period. But sophomore wing Cole Koepke blasted a one-timer through for his 13th goal of the season to tie the game at 3-3 eight and a half minutes into the period.
Just past the 11-minute mark, junior center Justin Richards gave UMD its second lead of the evening by converting on a 5-on-2 attack for UMD. Two Western penalty killers got tangled up in the UMD end being aggressive on the kill, opening the door for Richards to get his 10th goal of the season.
The second-place Bulldogs and third-place Broncos — who are separated by three points now in the NCHC standings — went into the first period tied 1-1 after senior wing Dawson DiPietro slung a puck to the far post on a power play to draw the Broncos even with under two minutes to play before the intermission.
UMD junior defenseman Scott Perunovich of Hibbing — who fed Koepke for the one-timer on the power play in the second for his team-best 35th point — picked up his fifth goal of the season 7:27 into the game to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. He scored off a give-and-go with junior wing Nick Swaney, needing two tries to get the puck Swaney’s way in the neutral zone before streaking to the top of the crease.
“Their defensemen were standing still at the blue line for quite a bit,” Perunovich said of the play. “I knew once I got it to (Swaney) I needed to get a jump. I know if I get it to Swanes, I know he can make a play. I was fortunate to get that one.”
The Bulldogs came into the weekend 13-0 on the season when scoring the first goal of the game, 15-0 when leading after two periods, 15-0-2 when scoring three or more goals and 8-0-1 when Koepke scores.
But as senior defenseman and captain Nick Wolff said, the Bulldogs have made a name for themselves as a strong defensive team during their back-to-back national championship runs. They weren’t a good defensive team on Friday, he said.
“We’re just soft, we were soft,” Wolff said. “That’s not our staple. We’re going to sleep on this, be pissed off about it, but (Saturday) is a new day. We’ll be a hell of a lot harder to play against in the D-zone (Saturday).”
The Bulldogs will have to do so without sophomore center Jackson Cates, who suffered an upper body injury early in the second period after being hit hard into the boards, legally. Sandelin has already ruled him out for Saturday’s game.
Jackson’s younger brother, Noah, was ejected in the final minute of Friday’s game for a contact to the head major. His hit will be reviewed by the league for supplemental discipline, but isn’t expected to be suspended Saturday.
Minnesota Duluth 1-2-0—3
Western Michigan 1-1-3—5
First period — 1. UMD, Scott Perunovich 5 (Nick Swaney, Nick Wolff), 7:27; 2. WMU, Dawson DiPietro 11 (Cam Lee, Austin Rueschhoff), 18:10 (pp).
Second period — 3. WMU, Ethen Frank 8 (Michael Joyaux, Drew Worrad), 2:52; 4. UMD, Cole Koepke 13 (Perunovich, Tanner Laderoute), 8:28 (pp); 5. UMD, Justin Richards 10 (Swaney, Noah Cates), 11:05 (pp).
Third period — 6. WMU, Rueschhoff 9 (Hugh McGing, Mattais Samuelsson), 7:22; 7. WMU, McGing 9 (Lee, Cole Gallant), 7:51; 8. WMU Jason Polin 5 (DiPietro, Rueschhoff), 9:11.
Shots on goal — UMD 10-18-12—40; WMU 9-14-9—32. Goalies — Hunter Shepard, UMD (32 shots-27 saves); Brandon Bussi, WMU (40-37). Power plays — UMD 2-of-3; WMU 1-of-2. Penalties — UMD 3-6; WMU 4-8. Referees — Tom Sterns, Cameron Voss. Linesmen — Dan Cohen, John Philo. Att. — 3,200.