Every weekday from June 12-27, we will be looking back at the "Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Men's League season. Wrapping up the countdown is
Moment #1: Michigan Tech Wins Epic 'Battle for the Broadmoor'
A week's worth of anticipation, fueled by 36 years of waiting, bottled tightly into over 85 minutes of tension-filled hockey in a building filled to capacity all bubbling upward in the 3-4 seconds it took for an outlet pass to free Michigan Tech defenseman Shane Hanna on a breakaway. And then
Triumph. Pandemonium. Pure, unadulterated joy.
For the Copper Country, for the community of Houghton, Mich., for the 4,466 fans packed floor-to-ceiling at the fabled John MacInnes Student Ice Arena and especially for the coaches and young men of the Michigan Tech Huskies, it was a night they will remember forever.
It was the 2017 WCHA Championship, the league's first home-ice title game since 1965 and the cumulation of the three-week, eight-team "Battle for the Broadmoor." And, when it was over, host Michigan Tech had outlasted Bowling Green, 3-2 in double-overtime, to win an epic championship contest. With the victory, the Huskies captured their first WCHA playoff title since a co-championship in 1981 and their first outright crown since ironically that 1965 contest (when Tech won at North Dakota).
The victory, sealed when Hanna scored 6:35 into the second overtime, unleashed a terrifically spontaneous scene. The tremendous noise of the sellout crowd, the Tech fight song played valiantly by the pep band, the thrilled, spent emotions of student-athletes and coaches alike all melded into a magical picture of communal joy, one that encapsulates what college sports is truly all about. And then, to cap it off, after the Huskies raised the Broadmoor Trophy, the fans including students who had camped out overnight for a spot in the arena descended to the ice to celebrate with their hometown hockey team.
Of course, for 40 minutes of this WCHA Championship, it looked like heroics would not be necessary. Michigan Tech and Bowling Green played a scoreless first period, but second-period goals from Joel L'Esperance and Jake Jackson gave the Huskies a 2-0 lead heading into the final stanza. With their season on the brink, the visiting Falcons showed the heart of a champion, scoring twice in a 24-second span of the third period to tie the game at 2-2. Joe McKeown started the rally 6:36 into the stanza, before senior Matt Pohlkamp capitalized on a turnover behind the Tech net and, while falling to the ice, buried his shot at the 7:00 mark.
BGSU kept the pressure on, eventually outshooting the Huskies, 9-2 in the third period. However, Michigan Tech freshman goaltender Angus Redmond stood tall over the final 13 minutes of regulation, setting the stage for a thrilling 26:35 of sudden-death, overtime hockey.
The first OT saw both goaltenders (Redmond and Bowling Green's Chris Nell) make spectacular saves, while both teams had near-winners draw iron (Tech's Alex Smith hit the crossbar with five minutes remaining; and, with 7.1 seconds left, BGSU hit the far post during a scramble in the crease).
Shots in the second overtime were even, 2-2, with the final one coming on Hanna's championship-winning goal. The senior defenseman capped a night that will forever live in Michigan Tech and WCHA lore, taking a beautiful outlet pass from fellow blue-liner Matt Roy (who received the puck after Michael Neville won a battle along the boards at neutral ice) and calmly burying a wrist shot to end the game and send the Huskies on to the NCAA tournament.
Hanna's heroics earned him First Star and Most Outstanding Player honors, while Redmond (career-high 36 saves) was named the Second Star. For drawing Bowling Green even in the third period, Pohlkamp garnered Third Star accolades.
Ten players from the 2017 WCHA Championship have since embarked on their professional careers. The dueling netminders each signed National Hockey League (NHL) free-agent contracts, Redmond with the Anaheim Ducks and Nell with the New York Rangers. A pair of junior defensemen elected to ink entry-level contracts with the clubs that drafted them, Bowling Green's Mark Friedman signing with the Philadelphia Flyers and Michigan Tech's Matt Roy with the Los Angeles Kings. Six skaters Michigan Tech's Hanna (AHL's Texas Stars), Tyler Heinonen (ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings), Chris Leibinger (ECHL's Quad City Mallards) and Reid Sturos (AHL's Texas Stars), along with Bowling Green's Kevin Dufour (ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays) and Pohlkamp (ECHL's Toledo Walleye) also signed professional contracts.
The championship game itself was a wonderful end to the WCHA's return of on-campus playoff hockey, which can only be characterized as a rousing success. For three weeks, in front of terrific fan support at Bemidji State, Minnesota State, Bowling Green and, of course, Michigan Tech, the 2017 "Battle for the Broadmoor" proved there truly is no place like home.
"Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Season
12: Everybody Loves a Winner
11: Hats Off
10: Celebrating the 50th in Style
9: 20 x 4
8: The Next Level
7: Dufour's Hat Trick Heroics
6: Kapelmaster Stands Tall
5: All-Americans, On and Off the Ice
4: A CLASS Act
3: Bemidji State Hoists the Cup
2: Tolvanen's Historic Streak