The Mercyhurst Lakers are again picked to finish near the top of the Atlantic Hockey standings, which doesn’t come as a shock to coach Rick Gotkin.
“We always seem to be in the hunt and I think that’s the result of the success and commitment of our program,” he said.
So it was unusual to not see the Lakers in Rochester for the AHA semifinals last season. After finishing fourth, Mercyhurst was eliminated by Canisius on home ice in the quarterfinals. The Lakers finished the season 15-20-3 after going 20-15-3 the year before.
An injury to forward Phil Ginand was a big reason for the stumble, according to Gotkin.
“He was only able to play in two games last season,” Gotkin said. “I think we missed him a lot. If we would have had him, I honestly think we would have won five more hockey games.
“He’s a big, strong, dominant center in Atlantic Hockey. I think it’s big [that Ginand is back and healthy].”
The silver lining for Ginand not being in the lineup last season is that other players stepped up, like Mike Gurtler (30 points last season) and Brandon Coccimiglio (28 points).
“Mike Gurtler, quietly last year, was our best player every night,” Gotkin said. “He’s matured into a player that I think can play pro hockey.”
With projected starting goaltender Ryan Zapolski suspended for a few weeks, junior Max Strang and freshman Jordan Tibbett will carry the load in net.
The Lakers already have a game under their belts, playing Michigan on Oct. 2. Tibbett played very well as Mercyhurst came back to earn a 4-4 tie at Yost Arena.
“It was a crazy scheduling thing,” Gotkin said of playing a game on the first official day of practice. “But we wanted to honor our commitment and we got to see some good things early.
“A few years ago, we’d go to Michigan and get outshot 57-12. But we’re right there with them. It was a good game. I think that says a lot about how far Atlantic Hockey has come.”