KALAMAZOO, Mich. — CCHA and major-conference teams across the nation beware. Atlantic Hockey is on the rise and the Mercyhurst Lakers are leading the charge.
The Lakers handled everything Western Michigan could throw at them, 41 shots to be exact, and came out of Lawson Arena with a 7-4 road victory on Saturday night.
“You never know when you’ll get rewarded,” said Laker head coach Rick Gotkin. “Tonight we really got rewarded.”
“For a team like us that has struggled out of conference, to win at Western Michigan, it’s big.”
The opening period of play saw the Broncos attacking early and often as Brent Walton tallied the first of two scores on the night, and WMU had a 1-0 lead 5:03 into the game. Mercyhurst responded just a minute later as Kyle Gourgon scored the first of four Laker power-play goals.
Dana Lattery put the Broncos back in front with just six seconds to play in the period on a power-play goal, as WMU went to the locker room with a 2-1 lead.
Nine seconds of play in the second period was all it took for Mercyhurst to change the entire game, as Eric Johnson sped into the zone and knotted it at two.
Scott Reynolds added the second Laker power-play goal of the night at 1:43, and before the Broncos new it they trailed 3-2.
Following a Bronco timeout it only took the Lakers another two minutes to tack on the fourth goal of the night and send Western netminder Mike Mantua to the bench.
With Scott Foster now in the crease, the Broncos hoped to reverse their fortunes; things were looking up as Jeff Campbell scored to pull the Broncos within one.
But the Lakers would not relinquish the lead. Jim Gehring scored his first of two goals on the night as the Lakers regained a two-goal edge.
Walton tallied his second of the night, again pulling WMU within a goal. However, Mike Carter answered in the final minute of the play as the Lakers regained a two-goal edge.
As the teams headed to the intermission Bronco fans were shocked to have seen a 2-1 lead turn into a 6-4 deficit in just one period of play.
The Broncos attacked and cycled the puck well in the third, firing 30 shots on net, but were unable to finish any of their numerous chances.
“We had chances in the third,” said Bronco head coach Jim Culhane. “But give them credit — they played well and they were the better team tonight.”
Gehring closed out the scoring with his second goal of the game with five minutes remaining.
Mantua, who was relieved after surrendering the fourth goal, made his first start in just under a month; his last start came against Michigan State on October 25, a game in which he was also pulled after giving up four goals.
Andy Franck turned in another solid performance in net for the Lakers, turning away 37 of 41 shots.
The Broncos look to rebound quickly as they face off against CCHA rival Bowling Green Tuesday night at Lawson Arena. The Lakers continue their 11-game road swing next Saturday night at Cornell.