Jeremy Wick came off the bench at the right time and was in the right place 1:33 into overtime Friday night as he took a pass from Greg Carey and beat Western Michigan goaltender Frank Slubowski from point blank range to give the Saints a 4-3 overtime victory in the NCAA season opener for both teams.
The Saints, playing in Greg Carvel's official first game as head coach, came away with a huge win to start the season as they won their opener on the road for the first time in several seasons against a quality opponent.
"Our power play was great throughout the game and I thought we moved the puck very well," said Carvel following the game. "Kyle Flanagan was a big part of that and he was an elite player out there tonight. He went hard all night on both sides of the puck, set up one goal and scored a great one o fhis own. He played like a true captain."
The Saints also got a big game from George Hughes on defense and Kyle Essery up front. "We rely on George and he logs a ton of minutes, both on special teams and on regular shifts. His hockey sense allows him to make big plays at both ends of the ice throughout the game," Carvel added. "And Kyle Essery was a tremendous warrior out there tonight. He gave away some zie, but he was tireless, won the puck battles and did all the little things you have to do."
The Broncos went into Friday's opener ranked ninth nationally in one poll and seventh in the other and were celebrating their 2012 CCHA Tournament championship and NCAA appearance. Friday marked the fourth straight year the Saints have started NCAA play against a nationally ranked team and the third time they have opened against a CCHA club.It was just the 12th win in program history in a CCHA building.
Junior goaltender Matt Weninger and the Saint first line of Carey, Flanagan and Chris Martin played a huge role in the win, as Weninger made 33 saves and the line had a hand in all four Saint goals. SLU held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but Western battled back, tying it 3-3 on an extra attacker goal through traffic with 31.6 seconds to play.
The Saints shrugged that off and in their first rush up ice came up with the game winner. The puck went deep into the Western end and Carey chased after it, knocking it free from a defender and sending it to Wick who walked into the zone all alone on a line change. Wick skated in one-on-one on Slubowski and buried the game winner.
The Saint power play provided SLU an early lead in the game and the Saints never trailed. Carey scored on the first Saint power play chance of the game as he took a pass from Flanagan who was next to the net at the near post. Carey cut back and snapped a shot inside the far post for his first of the season at 5:03 of the first.
It took Western only 1:02 to tie it up as the puck hit a Saint forward behind his own net in the back of the skates and it bounced directly to David Killip, who cut out in front and tucked the puck between Weninger and the post to make it a 1-1 game.
It stayed that way until 12:49 of the second when Martin scored his first of the season, deflecting a shot from the point by George Hughes over the shoulder of Slubowski on another Saint power play. Carey started the play with a feed from the circle to Hughes, who took a hard rising shot which Martin redirected. Flanagan then made it a 3-1 Saint lead 3:05 into the third as he picked the pocket of a Bronco defender, circled in front and snapped a wrister inside the near post for his first of the season unassisted.
Brett Beebe got one back for Western Michigan at the 5:20 mark as he cut hard to the net and tucked it between Weninger and the net and the Broncos pulled even at 19:29 when defenseman Garrett Haar's shot through traffic with an extra attacker on the ice slipped between Weninger and the post.
The Saints were a perfect seven for seven on the penalty kill with the help of 15 power play saves by Weninger while scoring twice in four attempts on their own power play.
"I was very impressed with Sean McGovern as a young kid in his first game," Carvel added. "He was a very impressive freshman in a tough place to play for his first time out."
The two teams will play a rematch Saturday at 7:05.