WORCESTER, Mass. — All goaltender Peter Aubry and Mercyhurst needed was one goal to take a victory over Connecticut in the first semifinal of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. But it seems that instead of just winning the game, the Lakers saw fit to plaster the Huskies 5-0 and once again prove their MAAC dominance.
“It was as complete a game as I’ve seen in my 14 years,” MC coach Rick Gotkin said.
Tom McMonagle will get credit for the game winner, but it was a team effort as five different Lakers scored and Aubry made 28 saves as Mercyhurst advanced to its second straight conference championship game.
The first five minutes of the opening period ironically played right into UConn’s game plan. The Huskies were able to slow down the pace and take offensive chances when the game allowed — as when Matt Grew beat the Mercyhurst defense to the wing and cut quickly for an unabated chance on Aubry.
Grew tried a short-side shelf job but Aubry would have none of it, flashing the glove and poking the puck over the net. His thievery clearly gave Mercyhurst an early wakeup call, as the rest of the period made the Huskies look like they were trying to skate uphill.
“It was huge, obviously,” Gotkin said. “It could have very easily been 1-0 [UConn]. It gave Pete [Aubry] confidence and it gave our team confidence.”
Mercyhurst only outshot UConn 13-10 in the opening 20 minutes but the quality scoring chances were clearly tilted in favor of the defending conference champion. McMonagle gave his squad the 1-0 edge mere minutes after Grew’s glorious chance.
“It was definitely a blow to our confidence,” Husky captain Mike Boylan said.
Leading scorer Louis Goulet controlled a rebound at the left faceoff circle before threading a pass to McMonagle, who deflected the puck over an outstretched Artie Imbriano and into the upper corner.
“It was a pass across,” Imbriano said. “A backdoor play. He just beat me to the post.”
The Lakers struck again just 1:48 later after UConn’s Matt Herhal took a questionable tripping call at his own blue line. The Lakers didn’t wait long to capitalize as Mike Muldoon, at the point, took a pass from Mike Carter before floating a wrist shot past a screened Imbriano to give Mercyhurst a 2-0 lead.
“After they got the second one I thought we got on our heels a little bit,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall. “But I thought we recovered by the end of the first period.”
The ice was level for the remainder of the period as the teams traded chances. The Huskies, though, came out of the first intermission with a comeback on their mind. UConn carried the play for the majority of the second period, outshooting Mercyhurst 12-7.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they were unable to chip into the two-goal deficit and ended up falling further behind on a Goulet shorthanded tally.
“A shorthanded goal really takes the wind out of your sails,” Boylan said.
When Brad Olsen took a high-sticking penalty after the Huskies had controlled the puck for a good minute and a half, a UConn goal seemed inevitable. But just 45 seconds into the Husky power play, Goulet took a neutral-zone turnover down the left wing before crossing up Imbriano and sliding the puck past him for a 3-0 lead.
But the story of the period was not the Laker offense, it was the man between the pipes. Aubry turned away all 12 UConn shots in the middle frame including a two-minute flurry that saw the Huskies bid for a comeback with three quality chances.
“We threw everything but the kitchen sink at him,” Imbriano said of his counterpart in the crease.
Following Goulet’s shorthanded tally and with over a minute left on the power play, UConn brought the pressure up a notch.
First Aubry stoned Eric Nelson on a wide-open wrist shot from the slot. Then he stacked the pads on D.J. Miller when he tried a wraparound on the ensuing rebound. Just seconds after that, he snuffed UConn’s best chance of the game when Jon Ames centered a pass that deflected off a Laker player and right on the goal line before Aubry pounced on it.
“He’s a top-notch goalie,” Boylan said of Aubry. “He’s a humongous kid, he’s got huge pads. He makes a two-goal lead awful hard to come back on.”
The third period saw the Lakers pad their lead with a pair of goals. Aubry secured the second shutout in MAAC tourney history with six more saves.
Five minutes after Nolan Brown’s unassisted tally made it a 4-0 lead, Rich Hansen extended the edge with a power-play goal from Peter Rynshoven.
Hansen, a freshman, had been repeatedly stoned by Imbriano but finally got one past him when Rynshoven found him all alone in the slot. Hansen took the feed and slid a low wrist shot past Imbriano for a 5-0 edge.
The UConn keeper made 27 saves on the game but was unable to keep pace with Aubry or the fleet of skate MC offense for that matter.
“They’ve got some snipers on that team,” Imbriano said. “They finish their plays.”
Mercyhurst will face the winner of the late semifinal between Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart. The MAAC championship game will start at noon on Saturday.