GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Someone forgot to tell the Mercyhurst Lakers that they were supposed to lie down for this one.
“I guess I’m as happy as I could be without winning a hockey game,” said Lakers head coach Rick Gotkin.
[q]No. 6 seed Mercyhurst took No. 3 seed Michigan for quite a ride in their first-round Western Regional match. The Wolverines managed to pull ahead with four minutes left in regulation for a 4-3 victory, but the Lakers scored first, came from behind to tie the game late in the opening stanza, took another lead early in the third, and came very close to pulling off the upset of the tournament, all in spite of being outshot 51-24 before a decidedly Michigan crowd.
“We knew we had a daunting task,” said Gotkin. “I felt as long as we stayed in the game … that we’d have a chance. We felt that way obviously until the last three minutes, and even after they scored … we had a couple of pretty good looks at their goal.”
Michigan head coach Red Berenson conceded that the Lakers “could have won the game.”
“I think a lot of people were wondering what kind of a team Mercyhurst would be,” said Berenson, “and I think they saw that they’re a good hockey team, obviously an excited team. They stayed in a game that maybe could have gone one way or the other, just as we had to stay in that game.
“Certainly Mercyhurst … represented their conference well.”
Mark Kosick tied the game in the third for the Wolverines and Andy Hilbert had the game winner with 3:33 left in regulation. Josh Blackburn made 21 saves in the win, but Peter Aubry was spectacular at the other end, stopping 47 of 51 for the Lakers.
“We couldn’t score on our best chances,” said Berenson, “and certainly Aubry played a solid game for them.”
It was Mike Muldoon who scored the first-ever NCAA tournament goal for Mercyhurst and a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) team, assisted by Louis Goulet. Goulet fished the puck from the right corner and passed to Muldoon in the slot. Blackburn, drawn right to defend against Goulet, left an essentially open net for Muldoon, who sent it home at 3:31 in the first to give the Lakers their initial lead.
Four minutes later, The Wolverines answered with two goals six seconds apart, gaining momentum from Blackburn’s point-blank stonewall of Peter Rynshoven’s shot from the crease, six minutes and change into the game. At 7:11, Scott Matzka took the puck across the blue line into the Mercyhurst zone, changed directions, went from backhand to forehand, and wristed it clean past Aubry to tie it up.
Then at 7:17, after winning the ensuing post-goal faceoff, Mike Cammalleri put Michigan ahead by one with his slapshot from the top of the slot.
With two quick goals and a wide shot margin, the rest of the period seemed to belong to the Wolverines, until Brad Olsen put Mercyhurst back in it with his backhander at 18:31. Capitalizing on a turnover behind the Wolverine net, Olsen poked the puck in between Blackburn and the right post, low and close in.
The game remained tied at 2-2 through two, with Michigan outshooting Mercyhurst 36-15 going into the third.
Adam Tackaberry put the Lakers ahead with his goal at 6:15, picking up Jody Robinson’s rebound on a Laker power play. Blackburn stopped Robinson’s shot from the lower right circle but gave up a big hop that went to straight to Tackaberry, who tucked it in behind Blackburn from the left of the crease.
Behind a goal with a dozen minutes left in regulation, Kosick said the Wolverines were “definitely desperate. We had been getting chances all game.”
It was Kosick who made one of those chances count on the Michigan power play at 9:22 to tie the game yet again, netting a goal-scorer’s goal from the bottom of the left circle. Aubry went low, and the crashing Kosick went high to make it 3-3.
Hilbert’s one-timer from Jay Vancik and Mike Cammalleri won the day for the Wolverines at 16:27. Cammalleri took the draw in the left Laker circle and dropped it back for Vancik, who passed to Hilbert high in the slot. Hilbert fired and beat Aubry midway up on the glove side, nothing but net.
“This was definitely a tough game,” said Hilbert. “Both goaltenders played a great game in net. We knew it would tighten up in the end. We had nerves at the beginning, but we were able to pull it together in the end.”
Berenson said he liked the way the Wolverines played when they were behind in the third.
“Like Mark said, there was some desperation, but also there was some patience. We stuck to our team game in the third period, and that was important. Had they scored again it could have been lights out, but we got the goals we needed. We’ve been here before but still I like the way our team handled some adversity tonight.”
With a record of 26-12-5, Michigan advances to play the No. 2 seed St. Cloud State Huskies Sunday at 5:30 p.m. The MAAC champion Lakers end their season 22-12-5.
“This has been a tremendous experience for me personally and certainly for all of our kids,” said Gotkin. “This is something that we’ve never known or experienced but it really has been our honor.
“I’m sad … but I’m not disappointed. I’ve really had the privilege to work with 27 fantastic guys that made me look like a genius most nights.”