Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin was surprised when his team was picked to finish first in the 2006-07 preseason poll. But while he didn’t necessarily think he had the best team in Atlantic Hockey, he didn’t foresee a team that had won 22 games the year before chalk up just nine victories last season.
“I’m not surprised by (the success of) Air Force and RIT,” he said. “It’s not like they started their programs yesterday. But for us, it was our inability to win one-goal games. We lost 13 one-goal games if you count the ones where we pulled the goalie.
“And in a lot of those games, we thought we played pretty good. It was just the kind of year we had. We’d come out of those games feeling good about the way we played, but we just couldn’t win.
“The league is that tight now. We played AIC when they were 0-12 and playing their first home game, and they beat us. And I thought we played pretty well that night. We give up a (losing) goal at RIT with four seconds to play. We played a game where a fourth-line kid throws a puck from the Zamboni door and it goes off our goalie’s skate and in the net and we lose. And this is after our goalie makes three or four amazing saves.”
With Tyler Small leaving the team midway though last season and Mike Ella and Jordan Wakefield graduating, Mercyhurst needed to find goaltending, and Gotkin thinks he’s hit the jackpot in junior transfer Matt Lundin, who spent two years at Maine where he went 8-4 with a GAA less than two. But Lundin was behind Jimmy Howard and then Ben Bishop, so he went back to juniors before settling on Mercyhurst.
“The kid just wants to play,” said Gotkin. “We’ve only had three transfers in my tenure here, and this one is special. Matt was at Sioux Falls last year and led them to the (USHL) title and was the MVP of the series. He’s the man.”
Returning is leading scorer Ben Cottreau, who tallied 35 points despite missing seven games to injury. Also back are six defensemen who were young last season and still developing, according to Gotkin.
“We’re still young,” he said. “We need those guys to be strong defensively. Keep it simple, move the puck.”
A daunting schedule will test his team early. Mercyhurst opens with the Lefty McFadden tournament (Ohio State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin) and also plays at Maine and at Michigan State.
“We want to play the best,” said Gotkin. “And then going back into league play there’s no letting up. We need to get back to where we want to be, which is to win games.”