Western Michigan Broncos: Hockey Moves Up the Rankings
After completing a sweep over the defending NCAA hockey champions, the Western Michigan Broncos move up one of the polls while staying firm in another.
The Broncos earned their first two victories in school history at home over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks and took three out of four games this regular season. After topping North Dakota 4-2 on Friday night, the Broncos came away with a 3-2 victory Saturday to complete the sweep.
In the opener, the Broncos used two quick goals in the second period from defenseman Neal Goff and center Michael Rebry to take a 2-1 lead over the Hawks. North Dakota would tie the game 6:34 into the third period. The Broncos would get their game winner from center and captain Sheldon Dries with just under seven minutes remaining to take the 3-2 lead. Colt Conrad would add an empty netter to solidify the win for the Broncos.
The game Saturday night saw the Broncos jump quickly on the Fighting Hawks, as right winger Matheson Iacopelli capitalized on two turnovers in the first period for his team-leading 17th and 18th goals on the year. Defensemen Taylor Fleming would score for the first time this season just over three minutes into the second period to make it a 3-0 Bronco lead. The rest of the evening relied on the stellar goaltending by Ben Blacker (named NCHC Goalie of the Week), who stopped 44 shots on the night. The Fighting Hawks outshot the Broncos 34-7 in the final two periods. For all the highlights from Saturday night, check out the video from Bronco Productions.
With two regular season weekends remaining, the Broncos sit in third place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), chasing the now-top ranked Denver Pioneers for second place (10 points) and the second-ranked Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs by 12 points for the conference lead.
Speaking of rankings, the Broncos remain in eighth in the USCHO.com rankings, while moving up three spots to sixth in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings.
Another key ranking for collegiate hockey is the Pairwise rankings, which are very similar to college basketball's RPI rankings. In order to reach the NCAA tournament in hockey, there are 16 teams, with the Pairwise the closest rankings to who will make the tournament. Western is currently fifth in the Pairwise, which is a projected second-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The remaining schedule continues this Friday and Saturday in Colorado Springs, where the Broncos will take on the Colorado College Tigers. Western defeated the Tigers 4-2 and 3-0 in January at Lawson Ice Arena. With one win in regulation this weekend, the Broncos will wrap up at least a home weekend series in the NCHC playoffs. They will conclude the regular season on March 3rd and 4th, hosting Minnesota-Duluth.