ERIE, Pa. — Last weekend Robert Morris, in its first season of intercollegiate hockey, opened eyes by splitting close games with Atlantic Hockey participant Canisius.
Tuesday night at the Mercyhurst Ice Arena, it was the Colonials who got their eyes opened.
After dropping their first three games, all on the road and all to NCAA Division I powers, Mercyhurst got at least one point from 12 different players while cleaning up on the upstart Colonials 8-2 before a crowd of 775.
In their first-ever NCAA hockey game on Friday, Robert Morris, a College Hockey America team comprised of 20 freshmen, two sophomores and one junior, shocked Canisius 3-1 at the Buffalo State Sports Arena. The Colonials then dropped a 5-4 decision to the Griffs on Saturday at the RMU Island Sports Center.
Last weekend’s performance earned RMU some votes in the latest USCHO.com/CSTV poll, and the Lakers weren’t about to take the Colonials lightly.
“You can see that they (Robert Morris) have a good club, and clearly, when they beat Canisius, our guys paid a little more attention,” said Lakers’ coach Rick Gotkin, who posted win number 299 in his 18-year career at Mercyhurst.
“We were 0-3 coming in here, and how can you take anybody lightly when you haven’t won a hockey game all year?” Gotkin added. “They’ll keep getting better, and so must we.”
Thanks largely to two-goals each by senior David Wrigley and freshman Matt Warren, plus three points by alternate captain Rich Hansen, a senior, and defenseman Conrad Martin, a junior, the Lakers are now 1-3.
In addition to Wrigley and Warren, other Mercyhurst goal-scorers were captain Scott Reynolds and David Borrelli, both juniors, Martin, and freshman Jamie Coghlan. Jace Buzek, a freshman, and sophomore Doug Conley scored RMU’s goals.
Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said that with a new program such as his, and with such a young team, each and every game is a learning experience.
“Every game we play we’re going to get experience, and hopefully improve something,” said Schooley, a 1994 Western Michigan grad.
Reynolds got the Lakers off and running at 3:37 of the first period, when he scored a power-play goal while Lance Smith was off for holding. Reynolds beat Robert Morris goalie Jamie Flury on a hard shot from near the blue line after taking a feed from defenseman T.J. Kemp.
Warren made it 2-0 when he converted a centering pass from Kyle Gourgon ten minutes later, but Buzek showed that the Colonials came to play when his power-play goal off a rebound of Jeff Gilbert’s shot from the left point made it 2-1 at 16:53.
The goals were the first of the season for Reynolds, Warren and Buzek.
Wrigley countered Buzek’s score at 2:05 of the second period to propel Mercyhurst back into a two-goal lead, 3-1, then Borrelli scored a shorthanded goal at 4:58 to make it 4-1.
“We had some good games our first three games, but they were big, tough schools to play,” said Wrigley, a 6-foot, 200 pound forward from Washago, Ont. “But we played a good systems game today, and everybody seemed to contribute. Hopefully we can continue with that success.”
Wrigley spoke highly of the first-year Colonials.
“I was shocked by what they did to Canisius, which has a good team,” he said. “They come at you the whole time, and we were fortunate that we capitalized on our chances.”
Wrigley said that he sees good things down the road for RMU. “You can’t expect that they’ll have a great season with so many freshmen, but they have potential for sure.”
Borrelli’s goal, with the Lakers a man short, was assisted by Pat Henk.
“I was coming back in their end and Kyle (Gourgon) made a good play off the boards,” Borrelli said. “It hit one of their (defensemen), and came out to Henk, who made a great play to get it to me. I was coming down the ice and saw a guy coming beside me, and tried to get a quick shot off. The goalie stopped it, but gave up a rebound, and I kept going and put it in.”
Martin made it 5-1 at 12:06 of the second, and Wrigley scored his second of the night near the end of the period to extend the Mercyhurst lead to 6-1.
Warren scored his second of the game at 9:19 of the third period, while Coghlan scored with nine seconds remaining in regulation.
Conley scored RMU’s second goal at 13:55 of the third period, which at the time made it 7-2, Mercyhurst.
Wrigley’s goals were his second and third of the season, while Borrelli’s was his team-leading fourth. Martin’s, Conley’s and Coghlan’s were their first, while Warren’s were his first two of the season.
Mercyhurst outshot the Colonials 39-27, with junior goaltender Andy Franck making 25 saves to improve his record to 1-2. Flury, a freshman playing in his first game, made 31 saves for RMU.
Mercyhurst finished 3-of-11 on the power play, while Robert Morris was 1-for-10. A total of 32 minor penalties were assessed in a rough game, 16 to each team.
“We knew that we had to go out and play very well for 60 minutes, and I think we did that,” said Gotkin. “For the most part, we had the things that we needed to do to be successful, including very good goaltending, timely goals, and we played our systems well. Now we need to keep getting better.”
Gotkin said that he expects Robert Morris to do the same.
“Robert Morris has the makings of an excellent program,” he said. “They have some kids who certainly can play.”
“We ran into a good team, they play at a high level, and they were ready to play,” Schooley said. “We took the second period off, and with a young, freshman team, we need to play 60 minutes of hockey.”
Playing their first game at home following three on the road, including two at Wisconsin and one at New Hampshire, the Lakers return to the highways for their next 10 games, beginning at Union on Friday. Mercyhurst does not return home until its Atlantic Hockey home opener on Dec. 10 versus Canisius.
Robert Morris next hosts Atlantic Hockey member Bentley on Friday and Saturday.