Last season was a roller coaster ride for the Mercyhurst Lakers. Things started off with high expectations thanks to the return of a healthy Matt Lundin in net. Lundin had was one of the top goalies in the league in 2007-08 despite playing through a serious shoulder injury most of the season.
“He literally played with one arm tied behind his back the year before,” Lakers coach Rick Gotkin said. “And he came back 100 percent healthy. But the team was struggling.”
Mercyhurst opened a tough schedule with just one win in its first nine games and Gotkin turned to backup Ryan Zapolski.
“Goaltending is the most important position in hockey,” Gotkin said. “If you’re starting a team and you have a choice between a good coach and a good goalie, take the goalie.”
With Zapolski playing the majority of the Lakers’ remaining games in net, Mercyhurst won its next six games and went all the way to the Atlantic Hockey championship game.
“Like [Matt] Lundin was the center of our universe the year before, now Ryan is the center of our universe,” Gotkin said.
Orbiting around Zapolski are Steve Cameron and Scott Pitt, who were first and second in scoring for the Lakers last season with 50 and 45 points, respectively. Still, the departed Matt Pierce (24 goals last season) as well as steady defensemen Kirk Medernach will be missed.
“They’ll be tough to replace but we’ll be all right,” Gotkin said. “One of the things that has made us successful is our depth. We lost some guys that put up a lot of points, but that happens every year. If each of our ‘depth guys’ can chip in a goal or two, we’ll be fine. We need all 25 guys to play to their potential.”
Mercyhurst again opens the season with a very difficult schedule, playing nine of its first 10 games on the road, including a return trip to Alaska.
“Yeah, I said last year I was crazy and here we go again,” Gotkin said. “Our games in Alaska start at 11 o’clock our time. I go to bed at 9. And we’ll get out of the rink at what, 3 o’clock in the morning? I’ve already made a couple trips to the bathroom by then. I’m old (laughs).
“But going to Alaska gets us two more games on the schedule and we want to play difficult teams in difficult environments. One thing for sure, we’ll be a better team after January.”