Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin has gotten used to having a bullseye on his chest. Having won the last three regular-season titles in the MAAC and two of the last three tournaments, his team can’t be overlooked.
“Everyone asks about the bullseye, but that’s the way it’s been for 10 years,” said Gotkin, who has led Mercyhurst to four consecutive 20-win seasons. “We’ve gotten used to that. We take it as a compliment. We seem to bring out the best in everyone we play, so we need to bring our best every night.”
— Rick Gotkin, on his Lakers’ status as Atlantic favorites
Coming off its second trip in three years to the NCAA tournament, Mercyhurst will again play the role of favorite to become the league’s first back-to-back participant. The Lakers did lose left wing Adam Rivers to graduation, but he was the only departure among the Lakers top 10 scorers from last year.
Defensively, Mercyhurst will miss stalwarts Mike Muldoon and Mark Chambers but brought in rookie Pat Henk, who Gotkin will look to for playing time immediately.
“We lost some really good players, but we bring back lots of experience,” said Gotkin. “Our recruiting went very well, though. We got the kids we went after and now have to put it together.”
There will be little time wasted before the newest Lakers are baptized by fire. The Lakers open the season Oct. 4 with a single road game at Michigan’s Yost Arena (ironically, both Mercyhurst and Michigan fell to eventual champion Minnesota in last year’s NCAA tournament). Though it will be daunting to face the Wolverines on enemy ice, Gotkin is excited.
“It will be good to get it going,” said Gotkin. “We thought it was important when the opportunity came up to play Michigan to do so. But the only date that worked for Michigan was Oct. 4, so we went along.”
A team that spends most of its season traveling, Mercyhurst will have an immediate chance for young players to get to know their teammates. After playing Michigan, the Lakers return home for an exhibition the following weekend before facing Ohio State on the road a week later.
“It’s good to get on the road and do a little bonding,” Gotkin said. “Three of our first four games are on the road. It’s a nice place to start — getting them into hotel and stuff is good for our team-building.”
The key on-ice position for Mercyhurst will once again be goaltending. Last year, the Lakers entered the year with two netminders: Matt Cifelli, who had limited experience as backup to Peter Aubry, and rookie Andy Franck. Cifelli left the team halfway through the year for personal reasons, leaving Franck to shoulder the load, something he did successfully.
“We like Andy Franck a lot,” said Gotkin. “Last year he got thrown into a tough spot. At this time last year we didn’t expect to have him as our only goaltender, but circumstances led exactly to that. Whether he was playing great or not, he had to stay in the net. He learned a lot about himself.
“One of our focuses for recruiting was goaltending. We brought in two very good goaltenders in Jordan Wakefield and Mike Ella. Right now, Andy Franck, though, is our number one.”