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Irish fall to Broncos 3-2

Western Michigan senior Dane Walters scored two goals from the mouth of Notre Dame’s net Friday night and the Broncos held on to beat the Irish 3-2 at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Sophomore Robbie Russo scored a late goal for the Irish, but it wasn't enough to come back against Western Michigan Friday night.

Frank Slubowski made 35 saves in net and the No. 11 Broncos (4-1) defense did a better job of clearing the way in front of him in their first conference win of the season. Western Michigan blocked 16 shots — 11 of them in the first period — and kept Notre Dame from establishing themselves in the slot for the majority of the night.

“One of the biggest differences in the game is they won the battles in front of our net and we didn’t win enough in front of their net,” junior goalie Steven Summerhays said.

Miscommunication between Summerhays and the Irish defense left the door open for both of Walters’ second period goals. The first came on a long deflection that started with a shot from sophomore defenseman Jordan Oesterle. The puck slipped through Summerhays’ five hole after the goalie failed to get a clean look at the shot.

Five minutes later Walters, playing with a man advantage, camped in front of the net with no defenseman in sight. He had time to take an initial shot, gather the rebound and wait for an opening before putting it past Summerhays.

“The second period definitely was the difference,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “That power play goal hurt. That was the problem, and that’s been our problem a little bit this year at times where we have momentum going and we take a penalty and the whole game changes.”

Senior Nick Larson took a contact to head penalty 180 feet from his own net late in the third period that ended up killing Notre Dame’s best chance for a comeback. The Irish had closed the gap to 2-1 with an Anders Lee backhander early in the period, but a second power play goal, this one from junior Chase Balisy turned the game back in the Broncos’ favor.

Cutting through the Irish slot, Balisy dropped the puck back to his skates, kicked it up to stick to free himself from a defender and ripped a shot past Summerhays' stick side. The goal was his first of the year and the 25th of his career.

Irish sophomore Robbie Russo pulled his team back within a goal with a power play wrist shot from the face-off circle a little less than midway through the final period. He snuck his attempt through a mess of bodies in front of the net and tucked it under the crossbar to give Notre Dame a chance late in the game.

The Irish came up empty twice more with the man advantage, including one in the final three minutes. Slubowski and the Western Michigan defense killed off seven of their eight penalties by clogging shooting lanes and clearing rebounds effectively all night. Notre Dame found a spark after making some adjustments in the third period, but the Broncos’ tightly woven defense rarely gives teams a chance to dig themselves out of a hole.

“When you go down 2-0 it’s a tough start to come back from, and we waited too long tonight to get it going,” Lee said.

Notre Dame falls to 5-2 with the loss and 2-1 in CCHA play. The two teams will take a night off tomorrow before finishing the weekend series Sunday night in South Bend. The puck is scheduled to drop at 5:05 p.m. Sunday evening.

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