PROVIDENCE, R.I. — One week after No. 7 Mercyhurst was shut out in the second day of weekend split, the Lakers quickly made sure Brown wouldn’t repeat the feat. It took Samantha Shirley just 32 seconds.
Defenseman Danielle Ayearst added a power play goal at the half way point, and Mercyhurst (20-6-2) held on for a 2-1 victory over the Bears (11-12-2) in a game that involved a number of momentum swings down the stretch. The wild back end of the second period included a 3-on-3 and a Mercyhurst 5-on-3. Brown also had a power play opportunity to tie the game in the final three minutes but could not convert.
The game was far more offensive than the final score or the 23-23 shot count indicated. The Lakers dominated the total shot tally 45-22 for two periods and 54-35 for the game. Brown outblocked Mercyhurst, 16-5.
The sweep was huge for the Lakers, who don’t have much room for error down the stretch in their hunt for an NCAA at-large berth. Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti was particularly proud of the sweep because it came after losing freshman Stephanie Jones to the Under-22 Air Canada Cup and Sarah McDonald to a knee sprain in the second period.
“At this point of this season we’re playing desperation hockey, and different people are stepping up every night,” Sisti said.
This night began with Shirley stepping up once again. Mercyhurst’s leading goal scorer a year ago, she was shut out until the 14th game of the season against New Hampshire. Now she has nine goals in her last 15 games.
“Early on she was playing her best hockey and the pucks just weren’t going in the net for her,” Sisti said. “Since that New Hampshire game she’s played equally as well and she’s just finding the net a little more.”
The power play goal by Ayearst, which originated on a shot from the point in transition at 9:24 of the second period, was the only blemish on an otherwise superb penalty kill afternoon for Brown. The most impressive kill came against a Mercyhurst 5-on-3 at the end of the second period.
“We’re real good on the penalty kill,” said Brown coach Digit Murphy. “We have so many penalties called against us I guess you have to be good.”
Credit also goes to Brown freshman O’Hara Shipe who stopped 21 of 23 Laker shots. Combined with Stacey Silverman’s performance yesterday, it was a good weekend for Brown goaltenders.
“So much of the penalty kill is goaltending,” Murphy said. “Stacey and Shipe are playing phenomenal. For O’Hare to only have two goals scored against her is big. The fact that we can’t score a couple more to help her cause is something we need to work on.”
Brown assistant captain Jessica Link cut the deficit in half during a 4-on-3 at 11:03, when the Lakers’ trio shifted to one side and left the opposite side of the ice wide open for Link to walk in and wrist the puck top shelf.
But that was the only bright spot for a Brown power play that went just 1-for-7 for the game. Because of injuries, the Bears have never really found the right man-up combinations, particularly up top as defensemen have been hit hard by injuries. The Bears’ game plan was to force Mercyhurst to play them up high and get the puck down low to Link and senior Amy McLaughlin, but Brown struggled to control the puck up top and could not keep it in the zone consistently.
“Maybe we’re going to have to change the power play,” Murphy said. “I think it’s just a question of trying to figure out what the right mix is, and it’s kind of scary that we don’t have that done right now, but we’ll keep working at it.”
The best chance for Brown of the final frame came when Lindsey Glennon had a back door deflection at the crease, but she was stuffed by Mercyhurst goalie Laura Hosier, who reacted well to the attempt. Hosier made 22 saves for the day and allowed just three goals all weekend in lieu of Patty Kazmaier nominee Desi Clark. Sisti said starting Hosier this weekend was a tough decision. The freshman goalie is undefeated this season.
“We’re lucky because we have great goaltending with great kids,” Sisti said. “They push each other. They make each other better.It’s nice to know down the road [Hosier] is just a freshman. She’s getting a lot of games. She’s proven she can play in the big games. With her and Desi Clark, we’re in a nice situation. We like them both and they complement each other well.”
On Brown’s power play opportunity with three minutes left, Murphy’s plan was to get a whistle in the Mercyhurst end, call timeout and pull the goaltender. But the Lakers spoiled that plan by keeping the play alive, and Shipe was not pulled until after the power play expired and thirty seconds remained. Brown’s only chance at net in the last three minutes came in the final second, but it was too little, too late.
Despite getting swept, Murphy still believes her team is headed in the right direction. Until the ECAC tournament, when Brown will be gunning for an automatic bid, the team’s improvement is more important than the end result. The Bears’ next test is the North Country road trip against No. 6 St. Lawrence and Clarkson.
“I think the kids are working hard, they’re working like a team,” Murphy said. “We struggled with some chemistry in early January, went through a few team bumps and now I’m really starting to feel the sense of frustration from the kids, and they’re starting to be on the same page. Our teams historically do well in the end, so I’m looking forward to the end and doing well.”
From here on out, Mercyhurst doesn’t have any scheduled games left against .500 teams. All that remains is Cornell next weekend and its regular season CHA schedule, leading up to the CHA tournament. Sisti knows that his team will nonetheless continue to be challenged.
“Every weekend has its new challenges,” Sisti said. “The CHA teams play us as tough as any team in the country plays us. I think they have respect for us as we do for them. A lot of their seasons revolve around us and winning the CHA championship. Even though we don’t have a ton of teams, all the teams compete ferorcuiously to try to win that championship. So maybe we see those teams at their best and different from some other teams so them. Every one of us gives them everything we can handle.”