STORRS, Conn. — For a stretch of the opening period, it was Connecticut, not Mercyhurst, churning out the best offensive chances. But a flurry of goals in the bookends of the first frame gave the Lakers a 4-0 lead that turned into a 5-1 win Friday night at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum.
“We got some timely goals early and then we got some pretty good goaltending in our end and that was a pretty good recipe for success tonight,” Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin said.
The win, coupled with Canisius’ 8-0 loss at RIT, assured Mercyhurst (15-17-3 overall, 15-9-3 in Atlantic Hockey) of a home ice berth in the conference playoffs.
Paul Chiasson’s strike 23 seconds in gave Mercyhurst an early lead. The freshman took a pass from linemate Neil Graham and motored down the slot, beating a UConn defender before briefly losing the puck, but was able to recover, reaching out and poking the puck past Connecticut goalie Garrett Bartus.
After looking sluggish on the attack following the Lakers’ early goal, UConn turned up the offensive pressure, generating several scoring chances midway through the period.
Andrew Olson’s drop pass for Brad Cooper was right on target, giving the sophomore a prime opportunity from point blank range. But Cooper couldn’t control the puck and Connecticut’s (5-25-3, 5-19-3) chance to tie the game trickled away seven minutes into the first period.
Just over a minute later, Husky defender Alex Gerke grabbed the puck near the left post and got twisted around, and still managed to get a shot off from close in. But Laker goalie Ryan Zapolski (41 saves) was there to deny the freshman with his left pad.
“We tested him from outside,” Connecticut head coach Bruce Marshall said of Zapolski. “We didn’t get a lot of activity down low for rebounds and second chances were he’d have to make two or three saves in a row. We generated a lot of shots but they had time to prepare.”
Goals by Mike Gurtler and Chiasson as 15:23 and 16:28, respectively, gave Mercyhurst a 3-0 lead. Chiasson’s second tally of the period signaled the end of the night for Bartus, who gave way to Brad McInnis (21 saves) after giving up three goals on just nine shots.
“We did play fairly play well in the [first] period and we were getting some chances,” Marshall said. “But you look at the scoreboard and the shots are 10-4 in our advantage and we’re down 3-0.”
Connecticut’s Jason Krispel was whistled for tripping at 19:03 and the Lakers wasted little time capitalizing on the power play, as Jeff Terminisi’s goal at 19:11 gave them a 4-0 lead after one.
Neither team scored in the second period until Justin Hernandez found the back of the net at 19:52 to cut Mercyhurst’s lead to 4-1.
The Lakers’ added the game’s final goal on Cody Collins’ empty netter at 19:21.
“UConn always plays pretty well against us,” Gotkin said. “Despite the score there were stretches were they took it to us pretty good. [They] worked hard and at times outworked us.”
The teams wrap up the 2009-10 regular season with Connecticut’s senior night Saturday at 7:05.