In real time, it looked like Northeastern goaltender Devon Levi had turned in an acrobatic save that would be shown in NCAA tournament highlight packages for years. With Western Michigan sophomore forward Luke Grainger wrapping around the net 93 seconds into overtime, Levi — who had turned the puck over behind the net — dove to his right across the crease. Without his stick, the Hobey Baker finalist (and national leader in save percentage and shutouts) grabbed the puck with his blocker hand and sent it back out into the offensive zone — the fourth-seeded Huskies would play on.
But on replay, slowed down, it was quickly clear: Goal, WMU. Game over.
Top-seeded Western Michigan escaped an upset bid by Northeastern on Friday in Worcester, Massachusetts, holding off the Huskies, 2-1, in overtime. The win — the first NCAA tournament victory in WMU history — sends the Broncos to Sunday’s regional final at the DCU Center, where they’ll face the winner of Friday’s late game between 2-seed Minnesota and 3-seed Massachusetts.
THE FIELD:Michigan hockey is No. 1 overall seed in NCAA tournament; WMU also a 1-seed
THURSDAY’S FIRST ROUND:Michigan Tech hockey loses star Brian Halonen, then loses, 3-0, in NCAA tournament
THE OTHER 1-SEED:U-M too young for NCAA tournament? ‘I have T-shirts older than that’
The Broncos (26-11-1) looked like they’d advance easily when they took a 1-0 lead on a Cole Gallant’s goal with just under six minutes remaining in the first period. Gallant got the puck from Drew Worrad, who entered the NCAAs with a team-high 35 assists, in the right circle and fired a shot just over Levi’s stick-side shoulder for his ninth score of the season. It was the eighth shot for the Broncos on Levi; he faced 26 more in regulation without allowing a goal, including 11 in the second period and 13 in the third.
Levi’s steadiness in net kept the Huskies (25-13-1) in the game, and their offense picked up in the final two periods, with 10 shots in the second and 15 in the third. But it wasn’t until Levi left the ice that Northeastern finally evened things up.
Huskies coach Jerry Keefe pulled Levi for an extra attacker with about 3 ½ minutes reminaining. It paid off quickly, as Aidan McDonough skated through the WMU defense and took the puck to the left through the crease, getting WMU goalie Brandon Bussi to go down early. McDonough then easily put the puck past Bussi on the stick side to tie it up.
The goal woke up the WMU offense, which delivered a barrage of shots, including four straight over a 35-second span. But Levi lived up to his billing and stopped then all to get the Huskies to the extra period. And then, finally, just when he looked like he’d given Northwestern another extension, it all came to a halt.
Levi finished with 34 saves, though not the most important one. Bussi, for WMU, stopped 30 shots for the win.
Prior to Friday’s win, WMU had never won an NCAA tournament game, with first-round losses in 1986 (twice), 1994, 1996, 2012 and 2017.
Contact Ryan Ford at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @theford.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism