DURHAM, N.H. — Entering Sunday’s game against No. 7 New Hampshire, Mercyhurst’s season had been missing a few things any goal from last season’s top scorer Samantha Shirley, a quality start from a goalie other than Desirae Clark and a solid result against a team ranked as high as UNH. The No. 9 Lakers got all three in its 4-0 win over the Wildcats.
The win for Mercyhurst (8-4-2) over the Wildcats (9-2-1) was crucial to the Lakers’ NCAA at-large hopes, even though it was still November. The Lakers were just 1-3-1 entering the weekend against ranked opponents.
“To come out of here empty-handed would have crippled us,” said Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti. “You can only listen to that record so many times you keep playing great but losing, it gets old. It was a big gut check for our team. We challenged them. We knew what was at stake. I like the way we responded.”
Mercyhurst went up 1-0 just over seven minutes into the game when Stefanie Bourbeau buried a slapshot top-shelf after UNH’s defensemen turned the puck over, even though there was not much pressure on them.
The Lakers’ game plan of getting the pucks deep on the Wildcat defense and forcing turnovers worked to perfection on the play. McCloskey said his players were failing to make the first and second pass out of the zone, even if it was there.
“They’re not really pressuring you that much,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “What they are doing is they’re extremely well-positioned, and they come at you hard with one, and then they’re waiting. That’s their game, and they’re very good at it.”
Shirley’s goal put Mercyhurst up 2-0 just under three minutes into the second period when she tipped in a feed from Justine Jackson, who had gathered a rebound off of a shot from Ashley Pendleton. Shirley had 16 goals for Mercyhurst last year but had been shut out to this point. Sisti said she had done everything but score to that point.
“Someone like Sam who finds herself three weeks into the season with no goals is going crazy, but she’s leading, she’s doing everything she can to help the team,” Sisti said. “As we talked a week ago, our only option is to give up or work harder, and I’d like to think her hard work paid off this weekend.”
Mercyhurst added two more goals on the power play – one by Danielle Ayearst early in the second period, another by Sara McDonald early in the third period. Both came on soft shots from the point. New Hampshire goaltender Melissa Bourdon stopped 17 of 21 in defeat.
“Once we scored and we got momentum we fortunately got them to turn over the puck a lot, which helped us keep the momentum and got them out for some long shifts which maybe tired them out,” Sisti said.
Shirley’s goal allowed freshman goalie Laura Hosier to settle down in her collegiate debut, a 17-save shutout. Senior Desirae Clark had started 49 straight games prior to Sunday, but Shirley was euphoric at breakfast in the morning when she discovered she had been given the start.
“I thrive under pressure, so I liked it,” Shirley said. “I liked coming in and playing against a ranked team and knowing it might possibly come down to goaltending.”
Hosier’s performance means Sisti will have to do more careful thinking in deciding who to start next.
“One thing I always like is to have too many players to choose from,” Sisti said. “I think she just threw us a goaltender controversy, but that’s a good problem to have. We’ve always had great goaltending, and Desi’s played great for us, but we wouldn’t have started Laura if we didn’t think she could do the job.”