KALAMAZOO, Mich. — It would be an obvious cliche to say it takes teamwork to win hockey games.
But when you get contributions from your freshmen, your goaltender, your captains, your role-players, and your all-conference candidates, that cliche would accurately sum up Saturday’s contest between Sacred Heart and Western Michigan.
WMU sophomore forward Lucas Drake scored twice with the game-winner and an empty-net tally to help the Broncos defeat the Pioneers in a thriller, 5-3, and extend their unbeaten streak to seven games.
The Broncos capitalized on their power-play opportunities, going two-for-eight by receiving goals from freshman forwards Pat Dwyer and Jeremy Cheyne, who also had an assist. Sophomore All-CCHA candidate Jeff Campbell continued his hot streak by cashing in with two assists, as did Anthony Battaglia, who had two points Saturday.
SHU was within a goal virtually the entire game thanks to answering each of the Broncos’ first three goals. The Pioneers couldn’t rebound, though, when Drake scored the empty-netter at 18:41 of the third period. Senior goaltender Eddy Ferhi had 22 saves for Sacred Heart, which has lost five straight.
On the other end of the ice, senior goaltender Jeff Reynaert finished with 31 saves for WMU.
WMU head coach Jim Culhane gave credit to his starting goaltender.
“I think both teams played real hard. In the third period, I was very impressed with the play of Jeff Reynaert. … I was very pleased with the effort of Mike Mantua last night, who had the shutout, and I think Jeff played very well and elevated his game in the third period when we really needed it.”
Despite taking the loss, SHU head coach Shawn Hannah felt good about his squad’s play.
“We came into the game with confidence knowing that we can compete with these guys, tonight. If we outworked them and made the adjustments we needed to make in our game, we felt that we could compete and be successful tonight. They carried that through right to the end. There wasn’t any question in their mind that they were going to be denied until the final buzzer.”
Dwyer opened up the scoring up five-on-three by stuffing a shot past Ferhi during a goalmouth scramble at 4:12 to give WMU a 1-0 lead.
SHU answered less than five minutes later on the power play at 9:06 after WMU netminder Jeff Reynaert dove to cover the puck, but Pete Metcalfe slipped the puck under the netminder to even the game at one goal each.
The Broncos took advantage of an SHU neutral-ice turnover to take the lead at 17:21 of the first period when sophomore co-captain Dana Lattery streaked into the Pioneer zone after taking a pass from Campbell and squeezed the puck past Ferhi stick-side to put WMU on top 2-1.
Sacred Heart scored less than one minute later at 18:06 of the first period on the power play with senior forward Lloyd Marks’ top-shelf goal to tie the game at 2-2.
On an assist-of-the-year candidate for the Broncos, Battaglia, on the power play, connected a waiting Cheyne with a 70-foot pass out of the defensive zone, on which Cheyne beat Ferhi over the shoulder with a beautiful backhand at 5:39 of the second period to put WMU on top 3-2.
A defensive breakdown by the Broncos allowed SHU to even the score for the third time in the game at 9:58 after Paul Sposito beat a sprawling Reynaert to tie the game at 3-3.
Drake scored the winner at 19:48 of the second period by taking advantage of a loose puck during a collision in front of the SHU goal and putting the puck in the back of the net to put the Broncos on top 4-3.
Reynaert’s solid play in the third, despite getting outshot 13-8 in the period, allowed Drake to bury the empty-netter from inside the attacking zone at 18:41 of the third period to bring the game to its final score of 5-3.
When asked about being satisfied with the team’s record, Reynaert answered to the contrary.
“There’s always room for improvement. Of course we’re happy with our record with whom we had to play in the beginning of the year, we’re 9-4-3 right now, we’re happy with our record, but we’re not happy with the way we’ve been winning in the past couple weeks, and thankfully, we have been pulling them out.”
“When we start playing the Michigans and Michigan States in a couple months, they’re going to be able to bury us if we play that way. We’ve got to pick up our game.”
Culhane spoke great things about his goaltending duo.
“Two guys [are] in there who are very capable on any given night to do a great job in net. Obviously, they’re both very competitive, and both want to play. It’s great to see that they’re working real hard and playing well.”
Shots finished in favor of Sacred Heart, 34-27.
Battaglia, as well as senior Chad Kline, left during the game due to injuries. The status of both players was unknown.