DETROIT — Back in 2003, Mercyhurst won its first CHA Tournament and ironically enough, it was in Detroit. The Lakers did it again this afternoon in knocking off Niagara, 6-2, for their fourth consecutive CHA title in front of a sparse crowd at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The two Mercyhurst seniors — captain Samantha Shirley and defenseman Danielle Lansing — won the CHA regular season and postseason titles all four years at Mercyhurst.
“Not too many people can say they’ve won four straight college hockey championships,” Shirley said. “But it was obviously a goal of ours from the beginning of the season to compete in the CHA and now, to win it, is icing on the cake.”
Now the Lakers expect to be rewarded with an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, having gone 20-2-5 since the end of October.
“We faced adversity all season,” Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti said. “We started out losing five of our first eight and since Nov. 1, every game has been a must-win game for us. From that point, we could have gone south very easily, but we learned enough each step to move forward and grow as a team.”
Mercyhurst took control of the game with a pair of quick goals in the second period and held off Niagara for a 3-2 lead at the intermission. The Lakers then scored three in the third to ice the game. CHA Player of the Year Valerie Chouinard and Julia Colizza led the way with two goals each among Mercyhurst’s first four.
The scoreless first period wasn’t without action as Mercyhurst outshot Niagara, 17-3. NU goalie Alison Rutledge made several saves on pile-ups in her crease to keep the Purps in the contest. One of Niagara’s three shots came shorthanded and MC goalie Laura Hosier threw out the glove to snag Melanie Mills’ drive 7:30 into the first.
“Rutch absolutely gives us a 100 percent chance to win every game,” Niagara coach Heather Reinke said. “She’s phenomenal. Look at the shots in the first and it was still 0-0. She’s a leader on and off the ice and that’s why she wears the ‘C.’ She carried the team on her back all season.”
The Lakers took the lead at 3:19 of the second on a low shot by Chouinard from the bottom of the left circle that beat Rutledge short side.
Colizza made it 2-0 just 44 seconds later. Sherilyn Fraser’s shot was stopped by Rutledge, but the rebound lay to the right of Rutledge and Colizza beat the sliding netminder to the puck and tapped it in.
The Purple Eagles responded 17 seconds later as Emily Castonguay scored just her second of the season off a slick feed from Amy Jack in tight on Hosier.
At 8:39, it was Colizza again on a bang-bang play in front. Stefanie Bourbeau centered the puck from the right wing goal line and Colizza jammed it by Rutledge for a 3-1 Mercyhurst advantage.
Niagara pulled to within 3-2 at 12:07 as Charde Hoyle-Levy made a move on Hosier, deked her down to the ice and beat her low. Katie Gray gave Hoyle-Levy a pass at the right faceoff dot to set-up the shorthanded scoring play.
Rutledge was a key factor in keeping the score 3-2 in favor of the Lakers as she stopped 28 shots through 40 minutes. Hosier needed to turn aside just 10.
“The puck was huge tonight,” Hosier said. “But we got our opportunities and came through.”
Chouinard restored the two-goal advantage at 4:50 of the third just after Niagara killed off a penalty. Bourbeau hit Chouinard from behind the net and Chouinard went backhand over Rutledge’s glove. Rutledge got a piece of it, but the puck dropped just over the goal line.
Shirley iced the game at 14:59 when she squeezed the puck past Rutledge on yet another goal crease scrum. Jill Nugent’s initial shot hit Rutledge and bounced to Shirley.
Stephanie Jones added an empty-netter for the Lakers at 17:11.
Hosier finished with 17 saves and Rutledge stopped 39.
“I felt good out there and saw everything,” said Hosier. “We came into this tournament with lot of pressure and we respected Wayne State and Niagara. We’ll see what happens next.”
Ranked No. 7 in the PairWise and now with a league title, Mercyhurst
appears a shoo-in for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve always said teams play better with no pressure and that’s where we are now,” Sisti said. “We’ll see wherever we have to go play next, take a deep breath and we’ll go there and play some hockey.”
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Shirley said. “We’ll have to keep our speed going and do some research on who we play, but seriously, it doesn’t matter who’s next. We’re going to go out and do what we’ve been doing.”