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After rough start, Western Michigan is unbeaten in three games

Since giving up 18 goals in two games, Broncos are 2-0-1.

Western Michigan players celebrate after a goal against Colorado College on Dec. 11, 2020. Photo by Mark Kuhlmann / NCHC

OMAHA, Neb. -- The week started Sunday with a disaster for Western Michigan.

The Broncos, without their top goalie, gave up eight goals in a loss to North Dakota. Combined with the 10 goals they allowed three days earlier, it was one goal shy of the school record for most allowed in a two-game span.

But the week ended with plenty of optimism for the Broncos.

Western Michigan completed the week in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod on a three-game unbeaten streak after beating Colorado College 5-2 on Friday night in Omaha's Baxter Arena.

The Broncos suddenly have a confident goaltender in Austin Cain, who has a .957 save percentage in his last eight periods. Cain, who went 781 days without a win, now has two in the span of three days.


"The big thing there is the team's playing good in front of him," Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. "We haven't been giving up the types of chances we gave up against North Dakota and Omaha there. Certainly, he's been solid and square to the puck. Everybody's really happy for Austin."

The Broncos suddenly have a potent top line that has been dominant in all areas of the game in senior Josh Passolt, senior Paul Washe and sophomore Jason Polin. They've scored five goals and have a plus-five rating in the last three games.

"They're smart players," Murray said. "I think they feed off each other. They played three of our Brown and Gold games together and we knew that would be something we would be going to. I think they're just smart players. You've kind of got a bulldozer down the middle and you've got a guy on the right side in Jason Polin, who I don't know if there's a lot of hockey players who are smarter than him in terms of hockey sense and you've got Josh, who likes to have the puck on his stick. Two years ago, he had 34 points in the NCHC, which is not easy to come by."

They also have shifted defensive pairings, which seem to be working.

"We've just been playing solid hockey," Murray said. "It's the way we expected to play in the first game of the Pod here. Unfortunately, we played very poorly in the two games against Omaha and North Dakota and obviously both are great teams. We knew we needed to bring a real solid effort tonight against a Colorado College team that has great transition speed and some new defensemen that can move the puck as well."

The Tigers, on the other hand, have more questions than answers at this point.

They're now 0-2-1 and they've been outscored 11-3 in the last two games with a game against unbeaten Minnesota Duluth coming up Sunday.

"Our details are not there right now," Colorado College coach Mike Haviland said. "We've got to get the details of our game dialed in. That's the bottom line. I like our work ethic. I like our compete. But you can work as hard as you want, but if you have no details, you're not going to win games. We've got to get more detailed in our game."


Haviland did not commit to sticking with Matt Vernon as his starting goalie. Vernon has an .851 save percentage through three games. Backup Dominic Basse is a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick.

"It's definitely something I'll be thinking about," Haviland said. "I think he struggled again in there. He's fighting it a little bit right now. I'll talk to him (Saturday). Certainly, we're going to talk as a staff here tonight and all day tomorrow and think about what we're going to do for Sunday."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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