ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The fifth seeded Mercyhurst Lakers scored two third period goals to upset top seed and regular season champion Army 4-2 in the first semifinal of the Atlantic Hockey Championships.
“We’re real excited to be able to play one more game,” said Lakers’ coach Rick Gotkin. “It looked like a game that could have gone either way until we got that fourth goal.”
Chris Risi’s shorthanded goal 25 seconds into the third proved to be the game winner for the Lakers, who won the play-in game last night, and now advance to the championship game tomorrow.
The Lakers came into this weekend with a fairly average 16.2 percent conversion rate on the power play, but opened the scoring with a power-play tally, and have now scored at least one goal with the man advantage in their past seven games and 13 of their last 15.
At 7:29 of the first . Matt Fennell’s shot from the point was deflected by junior winger Matt Piece off of Amry goaltender Josh Kassel’s right pad and into the net.
“It was nice to get that first goal,” said Fennell, who scored the opening goal on Friday. “Our power play has really been working well, getting a lot of shots on net.”
Army tied the game at 14:23. Will Ryan’s pass/shot from a tight angle was stopped my Mercyhurst goalie Matt Lundin, but the puck stayed loose at the goaltender’s feet, and senior Aaron Anderson poked it home.
The Lakers took the lead again at 14:24. Skating four-on-four, Mike Gurtler’s shot from the high slot eluded Kassel, hit the post, then banked in off the goaltenders back and into the net.
Army opened the second period with a five-on-three power play and converted to tie the game at the 1:39 mark. Senior Luke Flicek took a pass, skated laterally through the crease, then dished at the last second to Bryce Hollweg, who put the puck past Lundin from the doorstep.
The Black Knights almost took the lead with 2:36 to play in the second when Owen Meyer had a breakaway opportunity, but he lost the handle.
“That was big chance,” Meyer said. “I overhandled it.”
In the third, Army again opened the period with the man advantage, but it was Mercyhurst that capitalized. On the forecheck, Mike Risi got control of the puck, and his centering pass hit a skate in front and beat Kassel to make it 3-2.
“I actually think it went off (Mercyhurst sophomore Nick) Vandenbeld’s skate, said Risi. “I think they’ll probably change that goal to him.”
“Giving up that shortie really hurt,” said Hollweg. “That’s the last thing you want to do when you start a period with a power play.”
The Lakers put the game away at 5:41. On a delayed penalty, Neil Grahm skated though the crease and beat Kassel glove side.
“That was one of the weakest goals I’ve given up in a couple of months,” said Kassel. “I wasn’t able to make the big saves when I needed to.”
Kassel was pulled with two minutes to play, but while the Black Knights were able to keep sustained pressure in the Mercyhurst zone, most of their shots were blocked on the way to Lundin.
“They played great in front of me,” said Lundin. “The defense and the way our forwards backchecked.”
Mercyhurst will play tomorrow against the winner of the second semifinal between Air Force and RIT. It will be the the third game in three days for the Lakers, who said that wasn’t a concern.
“We all played juniors, where we had to do that,” said Fenell. “We’re hockey players. Were used to it.”