KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Western Michigan sophomore goaltender Mike Mantua’s 28 saves against 12th-ranked Ferris State Saturday would have been enough to send the near-capacity crowd of 3,587 at Lawson Ice Arena home smiling.
But when Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels pulled sophomore goaltender Mike Brown for the extra attacker late in the third period, everything changed.
Mantua took a loose puck at the top of the crease, shot it 180 feet down the ice into the empty Bulldog net at 19:08 of the third period, and proceeded to tear the roof off the rink by becoming the first goaltender in WMU history to score a goal by shooting the puck into the net to cap off a thrilling 4-1 Bronco victory.
“There was about 3:30 left on the clock,” said Mantua, “I knew they were going to pull their goalie, I was thinking ‘I’m not missing this here,’ and I knew I was going to get a shot. We were up by two, I was confident, and I wasn’t afraid to shoot it even if they got it.
“I promised everyone I would score this year … there was no hesitation, I just laid the puck flat so I could shoot it.”
Mantua also stopped sophomore forward Mike Kinnie on a penalty shot midway through the second period after the forward was taken down from behind on a breakaway by defenseman Josh Akright.
“I would have to say that’s the best I’ve seen Mike play in a Bronco jersey,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “That was, by far, an exceptional performance on his part; he won some big games for us last year, but I think this is a game I will especially remember.”
The win ends a four-game losing streak in which the Broncos were outscored 18-5, and helped the Broncos earn a split with Ferris over the two-game series. The win is also the 19th in the last eight years for the Broncos against a ranked opponent at home.
“I thought that we played a pretty good game tonight,” said Daniels. “It’s a tough road game, Western’s a very good team, it’s tough playing here in Lawson, but I think, realistically, we played very well. I think the biggest difference in the game was Mantua, he came up big and made an awful lot of good saves. I’m not saying, by any stretch, we outplayed Western, but I felt it was a pretty even game. When you look at the game and say ‘what’s the difference,’ I think it was Mantua.
“I’m not dissapointed in our team, I’m not dissapointed in our effort, but I feel it was a pretty even game, and the difference was that Mike [Mantua] had a great night.”
The Bulldogs continue to struggle in Kalamazoo, having lost nine straight at Lawson. The loss is also the first conference loss for Ferris this season.
WMU received support from other players, as well, including junior forward Jeff Campbell’s game-winning goal and junior forward Lucas Drake’s two assists.
WMU freshman forward Vince Bellissimo put the Broncos on top 1-0 at 9:03 of the first period with his fifth goal of the season by cashing in with a wristshot after a flurry of saves by Brown.
The Bulldogs evened the score at 5:04 of the second period when sophomore forward Derek Nesbitt blew a slap-shot from the blue line past Mantua while on the power play to tie the game at 1-1.
But WMU capitalized on the momentum from the save by Mantua on the penalty shot when Campbell one-timed a pass across the crease from sophomore forward Pat Dwyer past Brown to give WMU a 2-1 advantage at 14:49 of the second period.
Drake is a player known for his hard work and it paid off when the Holt, Mich. native’s extra effort at center ice allowed freshman forward Brent Walton to skate in alone on Brown while shorthanded before tucking a shot inside the post at 15:49 with his fifth tally of the year to put the Broncos on top 3-1.
“I just go out there and try to work hard every game,” said Drake. “Those are the hustle plays that we’re looking for from everybody, and we’re lucky the puck bounced our way this time so Walton could make a great move and score a goal.”
Although the Broncos were outstanding in every facet of the game, Mantua’s goal was the highlight of the contest. He became the the first to perform this feat since February 28, 1998 when Michigan State’s Chad Alban also tallied, ironically, against Ferris.
Brown stopped 25 shots in defeat for Ferris to move his record to 9-3-0 on the season.
WMU hosts Niagara next Saturday while the Bulldogs host Ohio State for a two-game set in Big Rapids.