Mercyhurst’s Rick Gotkin got a surprise a week or so ago when he saw the league’s coaches’ poll. His team was once again listed first.
“I thought that Quinnipiac, because they were the defending champions and they returned so much, that they’d be favorite,” said Gotkin.
Somehow, the other coaches in the league disagreed.
“I’m not surprised to be in the top three or four but I was surprised that we’re picked to win it again,” Gotkin said. “I’m humbled that the coaching peers feel we’re the team to beat. It’s a great compliment to our players and coaches and our tradition.”
If Gotkin’s Lakers are going to win the championship, though, they’re going to have to fill a bit of a hole in goal. Peter Aubry, one of the best the school has ever seen, has graduated. That opens the door for Matt Cifelli, a junior netminder who saw little action his first two seasons.
“The torch passes from Aubry to Matt Cifelli,” said Gotkin. “We’ve always liked Matt. That’s why we’ve brought him here. It’s unfortunate because he’s sat behind one great player.
“But in the games that he’s played, he’s played very well. He’s a very athletic goaltender and a great competitor. He needs a good chance and we’re prepared to give it to him.”
Gotkin will also need to replace Louis Goulet, a fiery forward who on many nights could come alive to steal a game for the Lakers, a headache to many a MAAC coach.
According to Gotkin, unlike the situation in net, no one player will replace Goulet.
“To replace Louie, we need to do it by committee, and we need four or five guys to step up,” quipped Gotkin.
Much of Mercyhurst’s success the past two years has come as a result of knowing how to win. If the Lakers remained in a game late, likely they came away victorious.
“In the last two years, we’ve had some good years, but we’ve won a lot of one-goal hockey games,” Gotkin said. “It didn’t matter who we played — those were great hockey games every single night.”
Obviously, the Lakers will need to continue that tradition to find themselves on a winning path come season’s end. But they will also need to show commitment to team defense that propelled the Lakers to the NCAA tournament two seasons ago.
After Cifelli, the defense will be led by seniors Mike Muldoon and Mark Chambers. T.J. Kemp was a welcome addition to the Laker defense last season and Gotkin hopes that rookies Preston Briggs and Conrad Martin can have the same impact this year.