ERIE, Pa. — Over the years, whenever heated rivals Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst banged heads, the games were almost without fail tense, back-and-forth nail-biters that went right down to the final buzzer.
That hasn’t happened this year. And it didn’t happen at the Mercyhurst Ice Arena on Friday.
Getting goals from five different players, excellent penalty killing, timely defense, and stellar goaltending from sophomore Andy Franck, things came relatively easy for Mercyhurst this time, to the tune of a 5-1 victory over Atlantic Hockey foe Quinnipiac.
The third-place Bobcats, a team that had beaten the Lakers, 5-2, at Quinnipiac on Dec. 5, and had handed them their last Atlantic Hockey loss prior to six consecutive league wins, played Mercyhurst even for one period — the first period — and that was it.
After that, it was all Mercyhurst.
After Mercyhurst’s Scott Reynolds and Quinnipiac’s Chris White exchanged goals in the first part of the second period, T. J. Kemp’s power play goal at 12:26 of the second period gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead and was the eventual game-winner.
Then, Mercyhurst’s youngsters, sophomore David Borrelli and with freshmen Scott Champagne and Jon Asselstine, took over, each scoring in the third period to polish off the Lakers’ four-goal victory.
“It was a great college hockey game,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin, who downplayed his team’s surprisingly easy victory. “There was a lot of good up and down play, a lot of good physical play, great goaltending at both ends, and you saw a lot of skill from both teams.
“But we found a way to win an important game.”
The win was very important in Mercyhurst’s quest to catch first-place Holy Cross, which triumphed 6-4 at Bentley on Friday.
Although the Lakers (14-9-1, 11-3-0 AHA) failed to gain ground on Holy Cross (13-2-1 AHA), they kept within seven points of the Crusaders. Mercyhurst owns two games in hand over Holy Cross, however, with one game remaining between the two teams.
Quinnipiac, which had won three straight AHA contests, dropped to 10-10-2 overall and 7-3-2 in the conference. The Bobcats now trail Mercyhurst by six points and Holy Cross by 11, but possess two games in hand over the Lakers and four over Holy Cross.
Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac meet again Saturday at Mercyhurst.
Gotkin felt that his Lakers wore the Bobcats down Friday.
“We played four lines and six defensemen, and tried to keep guys fresh,” he said. “And part of wearing teams down is skating hard every shift and finishing your checks. We’re a really good team when we skate and finish our checks.”
Gotkin also said that the penalty kill was a key in the win for the Lakers, who throttled all four Quinnipiac power plays. Mercyhurst was 1-for-5 in its power play opportunities.
“(Assistant coach) Dave Smith runs our penalty kill, and he does a great job with it. It clearly helped us win tonight,” said Gotkin.
For the season, the Lakers are 112-of-133 on the penalty kill (.842) and 66-of-75 (.880) in AHA games.
Reynolds’ goal, his eighth of the season, started the scoring at 4:08 of the second period. Reynolds scored on a breakaway after a feed from sophomore Erik Johnson, who got in the open after slipping the puck between defender Chris White’s skates at the Quinnipiac blue line. Borrelli also assisted.
Reynolds’ goal snapped a string of 191:15 consecutive shutout minutes by Bobcat goalie Jamie Holden, a junior, who suffered the loss.
White tied the game momentarily, 1-1, at 8:27 of the second, with Ryan Morton and Bobcat scoring leader Matt Craig assisting. White tipped Craig’s rebound of Morton’s shot past Franck.
Kemp’s game-winner at 12:12 of the second, his fourth goal of the season, came with Troy Maleyko off for contact to the head/roughing. Kemp beat Holden top shelf on a one-timer from the lower edge of the right face-off circle.
Rich Hansen and Adam Tackaberry assisted on Kemp’s goal.
“I noticed that their wingers were staying down low and weren’t keeping an eye on me,” said Kemp, “so I told Richie to try to get the puck in the corner and watch me cross-ice. On the next play he fed it right across to me from the corner.”
Borrelli’s goal at 6:13 of the third was his team-leading 12th of the season, while Champagne’s goal, at 7:16, was his fifth. Nolan Brown and Reynolds assisted on Borrelli’s goal, and David Wrigley assisted on Champagne’s.
“It’s always been a big rivalry between these two teams, and the guys really pulled it together and played 60 minutes tonight,” said Borrelli.
Asselstine’s goal, at 14:20, was his third, with Mike Pochatek and Kyle Gourgon, also a freshman, assisting.
“They (Quinnipiac) handed it to us last time, when we weren’t mentally and physically prepared,” said Kemp. “Tonight we just came out flying. We just wanted to get the puck deep, hit them, and try to get in front of Holden a lot. We really played our ‘A’ game tonight.”
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said that the difference on Friday versus his team’s 5-2 victory on Dec. 5 was, simply, that Mercyhurst played harder and better than they did in the first game.
“The key was the three power plays that we had in the first period and didn’t score,” Pecknold said. “When you get three power plays in the first period on the road, you need to score. Franck was phenomenal, he made some big saves.
“Also, we took a bad penalty on their power play goal, then just made some mental lapses after that.”
Pecknold said that his team needs to play Mercyhurst like they did the first game in order to win on Saturday.
“They love to run and gun, so we need to slow them down tomorrow. Also, we need to make some plays. We need a little more poise, and we’ll go from there.
“But our guys played and worked hard tonight,” he said. “We just didn’t execute.”
Mercyhurst outshot the Bobcats, 35-28. Holden finished with 30 saves, while Franck stopped 27 of 28 shots. Franck’s record improved to 11-5-1, while Holden’s slipped to 8-5-2.
Mercyhurst now leads the all-time series between the two teams, 8-6-2.