NORTHFORD, Conn. — Scott Champagne tallied the game-winner at the 4:56 mark of overtime and sent the Laker bench into bedlam as Mercyhurst overcame two separate deficits to capture the Atlantic Hockey championship, 3-2, over host Quinnipiac Saturday at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
Champagne collected a Ben Cottreau rebound on the right side and beat Holden at 4:56, as the Lakers (18-15-4) used transition effectively to score the decisive goal. Mercyhurst has won eight straight games, advancing to Saturday’s championship after defeating Holy Cross 4-3 in overtime the night before.
“Obviously, we’re very happy on the Mercyhurst side,” remarked head coach Rick Gotkin. “Just like last night against Holy Cross, we found a way to come up with another goal and win it. I think our guys worked hard tonight, and I think Quinnipiac also worked hard, but in the end I think we just got one more bounce.”
The win was Mercyhurst’s first at the Northford Ice Pavilion in over two years, dating back to Jan. 18, 2003, 2-1.
“I want to congratulate Mercyhurst on a great game and a great season,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. “I am sure they will do a great job representing Atlantic Hockey in the NCAA tournament.
“From my perspective, I thought our kids played hard. We struggled a little bit in the first period, we were a little nervous, and our team really responded and had a great second and third period. They didn’t leave anything in the locker room. This is the best group of guys that I have ever coached.”
The Lakers will make their third NCAA tournament appearance in the last five years, after last appearing in 2003 against Minnesota, a 9-2 loss in Minneapolis.
The Quinnipiac defense looked to have the upper hand through most of the first frame, as the Lakers rarely invaded the real estate in front of Bobcat netminder Jamie Holden through the first half of the period.
Mercyhurst kept its foot on the throttle entering the second period, looking to collect the game’s first goal. At 1:39 in, Wrigley broke into the Bobcat zone with Matt Warren on a two-on-one, with Wrigley coming in from the right. Warren took Wrigley’s feed in the slot and dragged the puck behind him as he skated for the right post. Although Warren got a clean attempt at the Quinnipiac net, Holden got enough of the puck with his right toe to keep the Lakers off the scoreboard.
A bad decision by Mercyhurst goaltender Mike Ella set off a frenzy of activity in the Laker zone less than 30 seconds later. Coming out of the net to play the puck, Ella didn’t get enough to get it past the Quinnipiac forecheck.
The Bobcat offense fired on an empty net, going wide, and then moments later with Ella scrambling to stay in position the Bobcats buried the puck into Mercyhurst blueliner Denis Kirstein in front of an open net. Once Ella returned to his position between the pipes, though, Quinnipiac scored on a shot by Aaron Ludwig coming from the right side dot at 2:06, making it 1-0 Bobcats
Dave Borrelli tied the contest with his 17th goal of the season at 5:17. As a penalty to Matt Froehlich expired, Borrelli slid his shot from the left side of the zone along the ice to beat Holden. It was his third goal in the tournament.
Quinnipiac regained the lead midway through the second stanza on a redirection by Matt Craig. With a defender draped over him, Craig got just enough of a Matt Froehlich shot from the left dasher to make Ella miss the puck at 12:27. The Bobcats went into the locker room up 2-1, having outshot the Lakers 20-9 in the period.
Frustrated at times, the Lakers were finally rewarded with the game-tying goal at the 14:03 mark. Swarming in front of Holden, rookie Ryan Toomey started the play with a shot from the point. Holden made the save, and also stopped Scott Reynolds’ rebound shot, but could not move as fast across the crease as the puck did, and a wide-open Erik Johnson made the most of a clear shot at the cage, tying the contest at 2. Reynolds shocked the pro-Quinnipiac crowd with his 12th goal of the season at 4:56.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Gotkin. “They’ve certainly stayed with it, because nothing has been easy this season. We went through a stretch of one-goal losses, and then we’ve got a stretch in the end with two one-goal wins.”
Ella made 36 saves in net for Mercyhurst, while Holden stopped 34 shots, four in overtime. Neither team saw production on limited power-play opportunities, as the Lakers were 0-for-3 on the man-advantage, while the Bobcats were 0-for-2.
“I congratulate Quinnipiac on what was a great year for them,” said Gotkin. “They certainly didn’t disappoint tonight. The game could have gone either way, and we feel very fortunate.”
The All-Tournament team consisted of forwards Matt Craig, Quinnipiac; David Wrigley, Mercyhurst; Scott Champagne, Mercyhurst; defensemen Reid Cashman, Quinnipiac; T.J. Kemp, Mercyhurst; and goaltender Jamie Holden, Quinnipiac. Champagne earned MVP honors.
Quinnipiac witnessed its eight-game winning streak come to an end with the loss, along with its season. At 21-13-3, the Bobcats had won 15 of their last 18 games.