ERIE, Pa. — Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said that it wasn’t slick skating or hard hitting that led to the Lakers’ 3-1 win over Quinnipiac on Wednesday.
Even though the Lakers practically melted the ice, permanently disfigured the Plexiglas and battered the boards into smithereens.
It wasn’t great goaltending, either, Gotkin said.
Even though junior netminder Andy Franck put a “keep out or you will be shot” sign over the net, and swatted pucks away like pesky gnats.
Nor was it a weird deflection, funky bounce or fluky play.
No, it wasn’t those things, Gotkin said.
So what was it that the Mercyhurst Ice Center crowd of 851 witnessed that led the Lakers to a key Atlantic Hockey victory over Quinnipiac, their Atlantic Hockey arch-rival, exactly one night after Mercyhurst had practically self-destructed in a penalty-infested 4-4 tie with Bentley?
“It was character that won this hockey game for us,” Gotkin said.
“Anybody who questions what this team is truly made of,” he said, “really got to see that tonight.”
It was like the Bentley game was a bad dream for the Lakers. Like one that you wake up from, breathe a sigh of relief, then laugh, and tell yourself, hey, it was only a dream.
Mercyhurst “woke up” Wednesday night — and played like the team that everybody who voted them the conference’s preseason favorite thought they could.
And the thing about it that impressed Gotkin the most was that they did it without three front-liners he had suspended for “actions unbecoming a player on Rick Gotkin’s team” during Tuesday’s tie with Bentley.
“Some of our so-called top players, David Wrigley, Scott Champagne and Kyle Gourgon, were left out because of our team rule for misconducts,” Gotkin said. “We asked the others to step up and come through, and you saw it tonight. And it was a great win for us.”
The win lifted the Lakers to 6-9-3 overall and 5-1-3 in the conference. More importantly, it gained them two valuable points, and pulled them into a second-place tie with idle Sacred Heart (6-2-1) and Holy Cross (5-2-3). The loss kept fifth place Quinnipiac (6-8-3, 3-3-2) five points behind those three.
Mercyhurst came at the Bobcats with everything they had — or had left — on Tuesday. And doing a big part of the stepping up that Gotkin referred to were three underclassmen, goalie Franck, a junior, sophomore Denis Kirstein and freshman Ben Cottreau.
Kirstein scored Mercyhurst’s first goal — which was his first of the season — while Cottreau netted the game-winner, which was his sixth. Lakers’ captain Scott Reynolds added an empty net goal late in the game.
Franck, who increased his record to 6-7-3, used an exceptionally quick glove to stop 26 of Quinnipiac’s 27 shots.
“Andy was outstanding,” Gotkin said. “That was his 40th win for us.”
Franck was aided by Mercyhurst’s defense, particularly the Lakers’ penalty killers, who kept the Bobcats off the board on all 10 of their power plays.
“You saw a great collective job in penalty killing,” Gotkin said. “And you saw some great play by a group of six defensemen doing a lot of little things.”
Gotkin also had praise for Cottreau, who scored the game-winning goal off a power play at 12 minutes, 41 seconds of the first period.
“Ben didn’t surprise me by doing that, because he’s a hardworking, disciplined player,” Gotkin said. “I think he’s going to score a ton of goals for us.”
Quinnipiac, perhaps a bit weary after a 4-4 tie at Canisius on Tuesday then having to travel to Erie in bad weather, managed to score first, but for the only time in the game, at 2:28 of the first period. Craig Falite, after taking a feed from John Kelly, one-timed a 12-footer past Franck from the left face-off circle to put the Bobcats up 1-0. The goal was Falite’s second of the season.
Six minutes, 22 seconds after Falite’s score, Kirstein made it 1-1 with a slap shot from the from the top of the left face-off circle that deflected off a defenseman and beat Bobcats’ goalie Jamie Holden on the far side.
With the score still tied 1-1 midway through the period, and Quinnipiac forward Matt Froehlich off for hooking, that’s when Cottreau came into the picture.
“It was the kind of thing where you just want to get it on net,” Cottreau said. “I knew that their goalie goes down a lot, so I put it up top and hoped for good things. It turned out to be a good idea.”
Possessing the puck in the right face-off circle, Cottreau deked around defenseman Nick Barnych, then whipped a shot that appeared to surprise Holden, who was screened.
“He gave me a nice move wide, then cut back to the middle,” Holden said. “Just as he was shooting a man skated through the lane. If you put the puck on the net stuff like that is going to happen. You don’t see it, and a guy makes a nice shot upstairs, there’s not much you can do.”
“It was a quick instinctive play,” Cottreau said.
Reynolds’ empty-netter, his third goal of the season, came after Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold gambled by lifting Holden with 1:47 remaining in regulation.
“Jamie Holden is a good goaltender, but both of us didn’t do too good last night,” Franck said. “But it was a good battle tonight.”
Franck said that his defense made it easy for him to make saves. “The defense was clearing people out in front, which enabled me to see the puck real well tonight.”
“We were shorthanded tonight, so we knew that we had to be far more disciplined and save our legs,” Reynolds said. “We always have a good game with these guys (Quinnipiac), and they’re always tough to beat.”
“It was a tough loss,” Froehlich said. “We just didn’t show up on the power play. We just didn’t get it done tonight.”
Pecknold said that it was hard work that led to Mercyhurst’s win.
“They outworked us, and were just hungrier,” he said. “Also, they did a great job on the penalty kill, where their four guys outworked my five. And Andy Franck played very well. He made big saves when he needed to.”
Quinnipiac was also shorthanded, Pecknold said. “We had some good players (four) out of the lineup for disciplinary reasons, who played last night that I sat tonight. But the bottom line is that Mercyhurst is still a good team without the kids that didn’t play tonight, and they deserved to win the hockey game.
“We’re really struggling as a team, and we’re kind of underachieving. We’re trying to get the ship righted,” Pecknold said.
The Lakers out-shot the Bobcats 28-27. Holden, whose record slipped to 5-7-3, made 25 saves. Mercyhurst was assessed 30 penalty minutes to 14 for Quinnipiac. Lakers’ scoring leader David Borrelli received a misconduct for shooting the puck at the goaltender after the whistle.
Wednesday’s game was the last time for Quinnipiac to play in the Mercyhurst Ice Arena as a member of Atlantic Hockey. The Bobcats will be joining the ECAC beginning next season.