Photo by Rena Laverty
Team USA wasted no time to open the scoring, finding the back of the net on the first goal of the game. Will Skahan (Woodbury, Minn.) fired a stretch pass the length of the ice that deflected off the end boards and right to a charging Baker. He put his shot through the five-hole of Cameron Rowe for an early 1-0 lead.
Western connected for two goals in 83 seconds to take a 2-1 lead less than six minutes into the game. The first came from alternate captain Chad Hillebrand while transfer Alex Bump found paydirt shortly after to give the visitors a lead.
The U18s tied it with a pretty tip-in score from James Hagens (Hauppauge, N.Y.) on the power play. John Whipple (Minnetonka, Minn.) led the charge into the offensive zone. The puck worked its way over to Shane Vansaghi (St. Louis, Mo.) along the right wing, where he slid a perfect back-door feed for Hagens' fifth score of the year.
Less than a minute later, Western retook the lead off of Bump's second goal of the night and the Broncos added a fourth before the break to take a 4-2 lead after 20 minutes of action.
Team USA cut the lead to one three minutes into the middle frame on their second power-play score of the night. Christian Humphreys (Pittsburgh, Pa.) found Teddy Stiga (Sudbury, Mass.) stationed behind the net. He found Bednarik at the left hash, where he wired his wrister in the top corner to make it a 4-3 game.
For the second straight period, Western Michigan added two more before the buzzer, this pair coming in a 51-second span. Dylan Wendt lit the lamp first and NTDP alum Joe Cassetti doubled up Team USA shortly after to make it a 6-3 contest after 40 minutes.
The Broncos added the first goal of the final frame as Matteo Constantini one-touched a Sam Colangelo pass in front on the power play to extend the visitors' lead to 7-3.
The U18s cut into the lead with a pretty 2-on-1 sequence that ended with a Humphreys score. Baker pushed the puck into the offensive zone where Kristian Epperson (Mequon, Wis.) started the break. He slid a cross-crease feed to Humphreys, who buried for his fourth score of the year.
Western answered less than 30 seconds later and Luke Grainger added another with 15 seconds remaining in regulation for the 9-4 final.
The Under-18 Team hits the ice next weekend to continue their Kroger College Series. They suit up Saturday night against Boston University at Agganis Arena. Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. in Boston and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.