PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There were plenty of reasons for No. 6 Mercyhurst to struggle this weekend. The Lakers were missing two of their top four scorers to the Canadian Under-22 national team. Even more players had to battle a flu bug. No wonder Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti was so proud his team played some of its best hockey of the season.
The Lakers defeated Providence 5-2 in a game they dominated from start-to-finish, although they did not break the scoreboard until the second period. Julia Colizza led the Lakers with two goals and an assist, while Stefanie Bourbeau netted a pair in defeating the Friars (11-7-2).
Mercyhurst (13-6-1) is 10-1-1 over its last 12, including a current six-game winning streak. The Laker squad that split Minnesota State and got swept by Minnesota and St. Lawrence early in the season is a distant memory.
“I’ve never been more proud of the team just because I’ve seen them grow quickly throughout the season,” Sisti said. “We lost so many pieces of the puzzle on and off the ice, we were just trying to find our way. Now, we’re having new people step up all the time.”
One of those new people today was freshman Courtney Unruh, the third-line center who netted the first Laker score in transition at 2:12 of the second period, with an assist from Natalie Payne. After a scoreless first period with a 15-8 shot advantage, the Lakers needed just one shot in the second period to break through.
“As coaches sometimes if you have missed opportunities it comes back to haunt you,” Sisti said. “Fortunately, we played a complete hockey game.”
Julia Colizza broke the game open midway through the second period with a pair of goals two minutes apart just after the halfway point. The first was a great individual effort that she finished past Friar goalie Jana Bugden at a difficult angle. The second was a quick strike on a pass from captain Samantha Shirley.
Providence captain Karen Thatcher, the reigning Hockey East Player of the Year, finally got the Friars on the scoreboard with 2:40 in the period. All-League defenseman Kathleen Smith set up Thatcher with Ashley Payton for the 2-on-1, and the two worked a quick give-and-go for an easy finish by Thatcher.
Mercyhurst junior Stefanie Bourbeau dampened the Friar comeback effort with a pair in the third period to extend the Laker lead to 5-1. After a series of missed opportunities on odd-man rushes throughout the afternoon, she finally put one home at 5:25 that bounced right to her in the slot.
Bourbeau had been personally challenged by her coach earlier in the week.
“Bourbeau, I brought in her in the office Monday, ‘You’ve got to step up and get it done. If you’re invisible this weekend, we cannot win,’” Sisti said. “She played two of her best games this weekend, along with her teammates,”
Bourbeau’s second goal came on a deflection of a Danielle Lansing shot from the point, shortly after a Laker power play expired. Prior to the score, the Lakers had done an exceptional job keeping the puck inside the blue line despite several Friar clearing attempts.
Friars top-scoring defenseman Kristin Gigliotti netted a power play goal in the final two minutes on an impressive shot from the point that cut the deficit to 5-2. Thatcher led by example in the final minutes by drawing a pair of penalties for her team. The game was another learning experience for the Friars.
“[The Lakers] deserve to be No. 6 in the nation,” said Providence coach Bob Deraney. “Every time you touch the puck you’re going to pay a price for it, and that’s something we hadn’t seen from the more finesse teams we’ve played earlier in the season. They’ve got good skill, they’re tough, they’re physical and they have smart players. With 14 freshman and sophomores, that’s a pretty good lesson that we learned today.”
Deraney gave playing time to three goalies, after Bugden stopped 29 of 33 shots. Hosier stopped 15 of 17 despite having battled the flu yesterday.
“This was a huge gut check, not only because we were missing those players, we were ravaged by the flu, but the kids gave every ounce we had,” Sisti said. “Even if we came up short, I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”
Providence closes out its nonconference schedule next week by hosting a pair against No. 8 Minnesota State. The Lakers next face conference rival Wayne State, a school whose coaching staff has plenty of Mercyhurst ties. Warrior coach Jim Fetter was a Mercyhurst assistant for three years, and assistant Mare MacDougall is a former player.
“It’s safe to say there’s no team in the country they would rather beat than us, because we’ve clearly been their nemesis,” Sisti said. “I think they’ve got games with us circled.”