A final score of 5-2 and a shots advantage of 40-29 might suggest WMU’s offense drove Saturday’s series sweep of Lake Superior State.
That win — and, now, a return trip to Joe Louis Arena — was earned through one of the Broncos’ hardest defensive efforts this season.
Forwards back checked … and back checked … and back checked, even with a four-goal lead late in the third period. It was stifling. The Lakers had nothing. No passing or skating lanes through the middle. No time and space along the boards. No clean, lethal shooting angles. Definitely no real chances at the doorstep. At times, it looked like 8-on-4. What, did Andy Murray crack open a vintage, special reserve game plan from his NHL cellar?
The Broncos made the low-risk, high-percentage play all night, like it was ingrained in their DNA. Not even a power play could give the Lakers an edge. Their lone man-advantage in the second period resembled a guy (Western) playing fetch with his dog (Lake State). If you were seated beneath the press box just inside the Laker blue line — and therefore unable to see much of the WMU end without standing — you might have thought the Lakers were dumping the puck into one of those automatic putting machines that spits the ball back to you. Chu-chung. Chu-chung. Chu-chung. Down the ice it sailed. Go get it, boy!
And when the puck is in the possession of defensemen Dan DeKeyser, Luke Witkowski or Matt Tennyson — or Garrett Haar or Dennis Brown or Jordan Oesterle, for that matter — forget about it. Dogs with pork chop. And when WMU wins, that usually means defense turned into offense: Tennyson had a goal and an assist, DeKeyser had two assists, and Witkowski scored his first goal ever at Lawson Arena.
Defense won that series.
And it will have to drive the bus again next weekend for the Broncos to have a shot at beating Miami or Michigan.
ALONG THE RAIL …
- Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk watched Saturday’s game near the student section. “Probably not,” he said when asked if DeKeyser was ready, physically, to make the jump to the pros. But he said it with a tone and smirk that suggested neither he nor the other 29 NHL general managers care. He also said neither he nor his colleagues truly know if DeKeyser is good enough to make it, but they feel he has the toolkit — the hands, the head, the speed. “And it’s really hard to find good players.”
- Watching the game alongside Nieuwendyk? Gary Roberts, the former 21-year NHL veteran who is widely considered the top hockey fitness and nutrition expert. He’s on staff with the Stars, but also runs a high-performance fitness center in Toronto during the summer that is legendary for its insane regimens. Perhaps he’ll get his hands on DeKeyser?
- Nieuwendyk is also interested in Tennyson. “Is he nasty?” Nieuwendyk asked during a first intermission chat. “Nasty,” of course, is short for “would opposing players, if they cherished their life, want to skate anywhere near him?” (The blog’s answer: No.)
- Ottawa Senators assistant GM Tim Murray attended Saturday’s game, as did Washington Capitals director of player personnel Brian MacLellan. And the usual birddogs from various teams perched themselves around the concourse.
- Rick Comley, the former Michigan State coach who now scouts the CCHA and WCHA for the Chicago Blackhawks, said during Friday’s game that WMU’s top-six defensemen are the best in the nation. Though he said he hasn’t seen everyone out east, he has talked to people out there and by all accounts, “Hands down, these guys are the best.” Comley agrees DeKeyser could probably benefit from another year of college hockey, but said college players in today’s game want to jump at the first chance they get, particularly if big money is involved. “They want to go now,” he said, then lamented about how tough it was to keep good players in Lansing when he ran the show. “And agents are stirring everything up, calling all the (NHL) clubs and saying that so-and-so is going to sign and such-and-such team is after him. It’s crazy.” And he made a good point: if you’re DeKeyser or another blue chip prospect and you decide to stay another year … and get injured?
- Will Andy Murray coach WMU next season? Multiple sources said this week that Murray has interviewed with teams in Europe, though nobody could confirm an important distinction: is he actually interviewing or simply fielding calls and offers? There are rumblings that Murray finds the rules and bureaucracy of college hockey annoying. And, recent murmurs suggest some close to the program don’t feel Murray is the guy for the job because his NHL and pro experience hasn’t translated well. Every coach has a shelf-life and some wear out their welcomes sooner than others, but it would be stunning if WMU had to replace its hockey coach for a third summer in a row.
- Finally, a couple of videos