Second-seeded Mercyhurst saw the grim reaper in Saturday’s last quarterfinal game of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
Thanks, though, to a three-goal, third period rally, the Lakers escaped postseason death, knocking off pesky seventh seed Bentley, 5-4, to advance to Sunday’s semifinals.
“We’re excited that we’re still playing hockey,” said head coach Rick Gotkin. “That was a heck of a game and [Bentley] had us on the ropes.”
That boxing analogy is actually quite an understatement, as Bentley got an early third-period goal from Brendan McCartin — his third of the game — to take a 4-2 lead, and at the time, things looked dire for Mercyhurst.
But goals by Erik Johnson at 9:24 to start the rally, and then back-to-back power-play tallies by David Wrigley at 15:24 and Rich Hansen just 53 seconds later swung both momentum and the ultimate lead back to the Lakers side and laid the path to the victory.
“We got that goal [from Johnson] to make it 4-3,” said Hansen, “and you could just feel the whole bench come to life.
“When Wrigley scored on the power play [to tie the game], that gave us even more confidence.”
It also gave the Lakers a second consecutive man-advantage. While already killing a power play thanks to a Carmen Posteraro penalty for tripping at 14:38, Bentley’s Kyle Larman slashed a Laker in back of the net. With referee Chip McDonald’s arm in the air for the delayed call, Wrigley fired the shot through Bentley goalie Simon St. Pierre’s (26 saves) five-hole to knot the game.
With Larman in the box, the Mercyhurst man-up unit scored again, this time with a shot off St. Pierre’s pads that deflected to a wide-open Wrigley, who buried the eventual game-winner.
Spoiled in the Laker victory was the incredible play of Bentley’s top line of McCartin (a transfer from Fairfield after that program folded last season), senior Joe Lovell and Paul Markarian. The trio was paced by McCartin’s hat trick, netted all four goals on the night and notched a total of nine points.
“It was nice to see them really come alive,” said Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist. “Joe Lovell is graduating and had a tough year with injuries. And McCartin and Markarian are both sophomores, so both have two years left to play and it will be exciting to have them back.”
Mercyhurst jumped out to an early lead thanks to the scoring punch of its top line. Adam Tackaberry finished off a Peter Rynshoven feed from below the goal line just 1:41 into the game to give the Lakers a 1-0 lead.
The Lakers had the better of the play in the first against a jittery Bentley team, but St. Pierre’s effort between the pipes kept it a 1-0 game, and set up a second-period explosion by the Falcons.
Markarian started things off by blasting a 60-foot slapshot that eluded Mercyhurst starting goaltender Andy Franck (14 saves), beating him between the blocker and his left pad at 3:46.
At 10:24, the same Bentley line scored on an identical play. This time Markarian fed McCartin, who blasted a slapper that caught Franck moving to give Bentley its first lead of the game at 2-1.
Mercyhurst, though, struck back when T. J. Kemp, a first-team all-star who had a standout game for the Lakers Saturday, followed up a botched three-on-one rush. After Hansen’s angle was closed off by St. Pierre, he found Kemp trailing the play and feathered a perfect pass for him to one-time home to even the game at 11:31.
Bentley continued to have its chances in the period and when fourth-liner Kyle Gourgon missed an empty net at 14:37, one had to wonder if these chances would continue to come.
That was answered less than three minutes later when McCartin redirected home a Markarian pass for his second goal of the period to give the Falcons the improbable 3-2 lead through two.
It also spelled the end of the night for Franck, who was lifted after the second in favor of rookie goaltender Jordan Wakefield (six saves). Wakefield surrendered only one third-period goal, McCartin’s hat trick marker, but turned away the remainder of the Falcons bids to earn his first career playoff victory.
The Lakers will face fourth-seeded Sacred Heart, a 3-0 winner over Connecticut on Saturday in the second semifinal. Top-seeded Holy Cross takes on six seed Canisius, a 1-0 overtime winner over Quinnipiac.
For the Falcons, the season ends for the second consecutive year at the hands of the Lakers. Last season, Mercyhurst knocked out Bentley, 10-2, in the semifinals played at the same Tate Rink. This year, though the result is the same, Soderquist takes some solace in giving it a much better go.
“It was a tough loss, but it was a one-goal loss to a team that I strongly think is the most lethal team in our league top to bottom,” said Soderquist. “If there’s anything to say, it’s still a loss, but we gave it our all.”