With a first-round playoff exit against the Miami University Redhawks, Western Michigan University (WMU) Broncos’ goaltender and Prince Rupert product Frank Slubowski has laced up his skates for the last time as an NCAA hockey player.
The senior student, who played four years with the Broncos, was a key cog in WMU forcing a third and deciding game in the team’s first-round series versus Miami in the NCAA’s Division 1 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) this year.
After dropping Game One against the No. 5-nationally ranked Redhawks 5-3 on March 13, the Broncos turned to Slubowski in Game Two at Steve Cady Arena in Oxford, OH a day later.
Coming in for the relief of Lukas Hafner, the Broncos’ other netminder, 11 minutes into the second period after Hafner gave up his third goal of the night on a turnover, Slubowski took over as his Broncos were leading 4-3.
Twenty-five saves later, and 13 stops alone in the final nine minutes of the second period, Slubowski earned the win, with the Broncos winning the matchup 7-5 and tying the series 1-1. Slubowski was a critical component to WMU’s sixth goal as his save on a two-on-one for the Redhawks turned into a rush up the ice for the Broncos’ Taylor Fleming, Colton Hargrove and Chris Dienes. The latter defenceman Dienes rifled a shot off the crossbar and in for the 6-3 lead before the second period was over.
The Redhawks pulled to within one with two more goals to make it 6-5, but an empty net goal by Will Kessel secured the victory for Slubowski and WMU.
Western Michigan coach Andy Murray returned to the Rupertite to start in net for Game Three on March 15 – both teams’ third game in three days. This time, Slubowski and the seventh-seeded Broncos weren’t as fortunate to get by the NCHC’s second-seed. Two quick goals in the first four minutes of the second period chased Slubowski from the net, after already giving up a marker in the first.
With WMU down 3-0, they couldn’t penetrate the Redhawks’ defences and find the net once in the game and were shut out 4-0, advancing Miami to the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff tournament. Slubowski made eight saves on 11 shots for the loss.
St. Cloud State, Denver, North Dakota and Miami made up last weekend’s tourney, held in Minneapolis, MN.
Slubowski, who couldn’t be reached by press-time, has had a strong history with the Broncos since committing to the university in the summer of 2011. Coming from the British Columbia Hockey League’s Alberni Valley Bulldogs, the 24-year-old business management major has impressed his WMU coaches along the way to graduating the program and has improved his skill-set immensely.
“What I like about Frank is how he is managing the puck around the net. He is definitely doing a much better job at that,” said WMU head coach Andy Murray, an ex-NHL bench boss to mLive Michigan after a shutout performance over Miami in Slubowski’s sophomore year.
In his rookie season in 2011-12, Slubowski helped lead the Broncos to a (now-disbanded) Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) title. Along with fellow graduating players Kessel, Justin Kovacs and Matt Stewart, the foursome helped the team when they were thrown into the fire as they transitioned into NCAA Division 1 hockey with the newly-developed NCHC.
“We came in hot with that CCHA title the first year. That was an incredible experience. This year, and at times last year there have been some down moments. We’ve lost games in a row and we’re not used to it. We’ve all grown through it,” said Kessel to mLive this month.
This year was perhaps Slubowski’s most trying as he had to share netminding duties with the 23-year-old Hafner and saw reduced playing time.
Slubowski went 3-6-0 (W-L-T) with a 3.44 GAA and an .884 SV%. They were career low numbers for the Rupertite, but also a smaller sample size to work with as he had previously played in the range of 26 to 38 games his first three seasons. Also, the Broncos as a team played to a sub-par season, with a 2014-15 record of 6-13-5. He finishes with NCAA career statistics of 49-38-15, a 2.34 GAA , a .909 SV%, seven shutouts and a CCHA championship.
The goaltender will continue to look for an NHL contract while putting his business savvy to use post-graduation, and has better luck than other 24-year-olds in doing so. Goalies typically develop and peak at a much slower rate than do skaters. Ottawa Senators’ netminder and White Rock, B.C. product, Andrew Hammond, commonly known as the ‘Hamburglar’ is proof of that. The 27-year-old is the NHL’s hottest goalie, going 12-0-1 (W-L-OTL) in his first 13 NHL starts, but the Bowling Green State University didn’t get his first shot in the show until February of this year.