WATERTOWN, Mass. — It’s not too often that a team can consider themselves winners, when, at the end of the game, they’re on the losing end of a 4-2 decision. Unless you’re the Bentley Falcons, and the opponent is Mercyhurst, the top team in the MAAC.
The Falcons, who three months earlier served as Mercyhurst’s mince meat, being on the wrong side of a 12-0 decision in Erie, Pa., played the Lakers tough Saturday night and found themselves in the game, down two with just under six minutes to play.
“It’s a moral win for us,” said Bentley coach Jim McAdam, whose Falcons dropped to 2-13-1 and 1-10-1 in the MAAC. “This will pick us up a little, especially after [Mercyhurst] humiliated us in their rink.”
The respectable loss came thanks to two goals midway through the third for the Falcons, cutting a 4-0 lead in half. The two goals ended a remarkable shutout streak that Mercyhurst held against Bentley.
The last time the Falcons scored was early in the second period of a 6-4 loss to the Lakers in October 1999. From there, Mercyhurst shut out Bentley in its next three contests and for the first 54-plus minutes of Saturday’s game.
The win helped Mercyhurst hold its position in first place in the MAAC and completed a weekend sweep. Mercyhurst beat rival Quinnipiac, 6-0, on the road on Friday night.
Still, coach Rick Gotkin was less than pleased with his team’s effort.
“You know, there are nights that you know that no matter what you say, the guys aren’t listening,” said Gotkin about his Lakers, who have a reputation around the league for playing hard night in and night out. “Tonight was one of those nights. It doesn’t matter what you say to the guys, it’s what happens on the ice.”
A silver lining for the Lakers, though, was the play of junior right wing Tom McMonagle. The small-fry winger, who returned Friday night against Quinnipiac from a tweaked groin, notched a goal and two assists and was solid defensively.
“It was good to get McMonagle back last night,” said Gotkin. “He’s not 100 percent, but he’s a skater, so you know he’ll get back for you defensively.”
The goaltending duel on the night featured the league’s top goaltender in Mercyhurst’s Peter Aubry (31 saves) against Bentley’s rookie tender Bill Bridge (38 saves). It was only the second game of the season for Bridge, who got the start to give senior Ray Devincent some rest.
The Lakers took an early lead at 2:25 of the first when their lowest production line of Adam Rivers, Brad Olsen and Mike Carter connected. Rivers skated in down the left wing side with Carter heading full-steam to the net.
The pass from Rivers was picture-perfect between the defense and allowed Carter to stretch and deflect it past Bridge for the 1-0 lead.
Bentley tried to respond as Andy Peters was sent in alone at 5:19 but Aubry stood tall, forcing Peters to his left and then sprawling across the net.
At 12:41, Mercyhurst expended its lead, when Bentley winger Brook Geraghty ended up on top of goaltender Bridge. Geraghty attempted to break up a Mercyhurst pass and block a shot, but ended up pushing Bridge out of the way, allowing McMonagle room to stuff the puck in for the 2-0 lead.
The play in the first period was balanced, with Mercyhurst holding an 18-14 advantage in shots. But quality scoring chances were the difference and gave the Lakers the upper hand through one.
Bentley controlled the offense in the opening minutes of the second period, but was unable to get shots through to Aubry. In turn, the Lakers responded.
At 5:31, Jeff Gould scored one of the prettiest “garbage” goals, diving after the rebound of a McMonagle shot. Gould was positioned just about the left faceoff dot when the rebound slowly trickled towards him. As outstretched as possible, Gould leapt forward and got just enough of the puck to push it into the net.
Just 54 seconds later, The Lakers struck again. This time it was Adam Rivers scoring his first of the season, blasting a shot over the glove of Bridge, hitting just under the crossbar.
Bentley’s best opportunity to climb close was set up at the end of the second, when two penalties to Mercyhurst 26 seconds apart gave Bentley a five-on-three advantage for 1 minute, 36 seconds. But Mercyhurst’s solid penalty kill, combined with Bentley mental errors resulting in offsides calls, killed off the power play.
But the Lakers, though they were successful on the penalty kill, seemed to lighten up a bit defensively in the third, and finally a little over halfway through, let the Falcons back into the game.
At 10:51, Bentley’s Scott Trahan scored a goal walking in alone on Aubry and beating him between the legs. And Trahan then set up Matt Beck, who broke down the right wing and beat Aubry for his first career goal at 14:05.
But Gotkin called timeout after that goal and regrouped his defense, holding Bentley at bay the rest of the way.
“I told the guys in the timeout that [Bentley getting back into the game] was what we were waiting for all night,” said Gotkin. “I told them it was time to take care of the responsibility in the defensive end.
“I thought the team responded pretty well.”
Mercyhurst will return home on Sunday morning and have a week to rest before hosting Fairfield next Saturday. For Bentley, the task gets no easier, as it faces Connecticut and Quinnipiac next weekend.