KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Coming into Friday’s contest, No.10 Northern Michigan was 15-0-1 when leading after two periods, while Western Michigan was winless in eight games when trailing after two.
WMU co-captain Dana Lattery fixed that problem by scoring both the game-tying and game-winning goals in the third period to give the Broncos a thrilling 5-3 come-from-behind victory.
“I think it was a heck of a hockey game at both ends,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “They were missing two key players for them in Bryce Cockburn and Chris Gobert, so we’re fortunate to come out on the winning side, but we really played solid in that third period.”
Both NMU goaltender Craig Kowalski and WMU netminder Jeff Reynaert were teriffic on the evening, but Reynaert (8-4-2) was huge in the clutch en route to making 21 saves. Kowalski (16-9-2) finished with 28 saves in the loss.
In spite of the loss, NMU head coach Rick Comley gave credit to Kowalski for his play.
“He’s played well. He makes a lot of big saves, he’s very active, and I think one thing that’s different for him this year from last year is he’s playing more, obviously, and his consistency is getting better all the time.”
The victory over NMU was the fifth for the Broncos over a top-10 team at Lawson Ice Arena this season. The win brings WMU back up to .500 in CCHA play for the first time since Jan. 4.
Although the Wildcats were out shot 33-24, they were without the services of Bryce Cockburn and Chris Cobert, who rank second and third in team scoring respectively.
WMU took the lead early in the first period at 2:32 when Trevor Cook deflected a shot by Shawn Rose past Kowalski to put the Broncos up 1-0.
Sophomore forward Lucas Drake’s penalty for goaltender interference allowed NMU to cash in with the man advantage at 15:57 when senior forward Shawn Owens deflected a blast from defenseman Pete Michelutti, only to have Mike Stutzel put the puck past Reynaert off the rebound to tie the game at 1-1.
Freshman forward Dave Bonk put the Wildcats on top 2-1 at 18:21 of the first period by blasting a slapshot from the high slot over Reynaert’s shoulder.
WMU tallied on its first of two power-play goals on the evening after Kowalski made three quick saves only to have Bronco Jeff Campbell put the fourth shot past the NMU netminder at 8:15 of the second period to tie the game at 2-2.
The Wildcats regained the lead at 18:35 of the second period when Alex Sawruk skated untouched towards a long rebound by Reynaert and put the puck past the netminder to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead.
From that goal on, the Broncos dominated by outshooting the Wildcats 12-8 and scoring three consecutive goals in the third period.
Early in the period at 1:22 while on the power play, Lattery tallied the game-tying goal by deflecting a shot from defenseman Dave Cousineau past Kowalski to tie the game at 3-3.
“We had a 3-2 lead going into the third. Obviously, they got that power play goal and that got them right back in it,” said Comley. “You know, whoever scores first in the third period has the momentum swing towards them.”
Lattery tallied the game winner at 18:35 of the third after he caught a bullet from Brent Rumble and skated in alone before beating Kowalski top-shelf to give the Broncos a 4-3 lead.
“You never can tell what’s going to be the difference in the outcome of the game,” said Culhane. “That was just a tremendous individual effort by Dana. I think Dana has probably been one of our better players in the last couple games. He was at the end of a shift, exhausted, but still found the extra jump, will, desire or whatever it took to get in there on the breakaway, but still have the presence of mind to go top-shelf on the goal.
“His play has really come on. We need that from Dana and we need that from everybody. We talked about it this week, it’s this time of year that good players raise their game to another level, and I think you’re seeing that out of Dana.”
Shortly after Kowalski was pulled to give NMU the extra man, sophomore Paul Davies’ hard work paid off as the forward found the back of the empty net from the red line to bring the game to it’s final score of 5-3.
Faceoff for final game of the series between the Wildcats and Broncos is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Lawson Arena.