ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin took his disappointed Lakers into the locker room at Michigan’s Yost Ice Arena trailing the No. 4 Wolverines 4-1 after two periods in the season-opening game for both teams.
Gotkin, however, saw something different than the three-goal deficit that was displayed on the scoreboard.
“We thought we were playing pretty good,” said Gotkin. “In the first and second periods, we thought if we had a couple of bounces, it could easily have been a tie game or a one-goal game.”
Gotkin told his team exactly that and added one more thing.
“We talked after the second period saying, ‘Hey fellas, you know what, we’re playing pretty well. If we could make this 4-2, it could be interesting.’”
Third period Mercyhurst goals by Paul Chiasson, Grant Blakey and Brandon Coccimiglio fulfilled Gotkin’s propehtic between-period statement and propelled the Lakers to a come-from-behind 4-4 tie with Michigan Saturday night.
“Sure enough, we make it 4-2,” said Gotkin. “Then, it’s 4-3. Now, it’s anybody’s game. Then, it’s 4-4 and, you know, we had some chances to win that game.”
Chiasson started the third period heroics for Mercyhurst, taking a long pass from Nick Jones at the Michigan blue line, eluding Wolverines’ defenseman Brandon Burlon and ripping a shot over Hunwick’s glove to cut the Wolverines’ lead to 4-2 at 5:22.
At 9:25, Blakey finished off a nifty three-way passing play from the Michigan goalmouth, set up by Mike Gurtler and Derek Elliott.
Coccimiglio completed the comeback at 11:59, tapping in Phil Ginand’s deflected shot by Michigan netminder Shawn Hunwick.
Mercyhurst freshman goaltender Jordan Tibbett turned aside 22 of 23 Michigan shots to fuel the Lakers’ comeback.
“You don’t have success against a team like Michigan without great goaltending,” said Gotkin. “I thought (starter) Max Strang played very, very well. Jordan Tibett, a freshman, playing his first collegiate game in a place like Yost Arena against the number four team in the country, was unbelievable.”
Shawn Hunwick got the starting nod from Michigan coach Red Berenson on the strength of his storybook late season run at the end of the 2009-2010 campaign, when he led the Wolverines to the CCHA Tournament Championship and within an eyelash of the Frozen Four. Hunwick made 33 saves on 37 Mercyhurst shots.
“You shouldn’t lose or tie a game when you have a 4-1 lead in the third period at home,” pointed out Berenson. “Even though I thought the first couple of shifts (in the third period) we carried the play, we couldn’t bury it. Once they got a goal, they got some life and they took advantage. They were very opportunistic and it cost us the win.
Michigan’s path to their early lead was every bit as methodical as the eventual Mercyhurst comeback.
In a quicker-paced first period than one would expect from two team’s playing their opener, Michigan relied upon two experienced hands for goals to take a first period 2-0 lead.
Seniors Louie Caporusso and Scooter Vaughan both found the back of the net late in the period to give the Wolverines an initial edge.
At 14:05, Wolverines’ senior defenseman Chad Langlais picked up the puck behind his own net on a power play. Langlais skated the length of the ice directly into the Mercyhurst slot, where he directed the puck back to Caporusso moving in off the left point. Caporusso snapped a shot from the top of the left circle into the far upper corner of the night over Sprang’s glove.
Vaughan took advantage of a Mercyhurst misplay at 17:30, picking up a loose puck in the high slot. Alone in front, Vaughan took two strides in and flipped the puck past Sprang into the Lakers’ cage for a two-goal Michigan advantage.
Michigan bagged mid-period goals from Greg Pateryn and Matt Rust in the second period to run their lead to 4-0 before Mercyhurst finally hit the scoreboard on a power-play goal from Taylor Holstrom.
At 2:35 of the middle period, Wolverines’ senior captain Carl Hagelin was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. After another Michigan penalty, the Lakers wound up with their first of two extended two-man advantages in the period.
Michigan managed to kill the 1:23 off two-man disadvantage and struck right back.
Pateryn took a point-to-point feed from Mac Bennett and caromed a billiards-style bouncer that hit, in order, Strang, the right post and finally the left post before it went in at 9:01.
Rust’s short-handed Wolverines’ tally at 11:59 started with the Michigan senior stealing the puck from Laker Mike Gurtler at rust’s own blue line. Rust skated in alone on Jordan Tibbett, who had just replaced Strang in goal, and rifled a shot over Tibbett’s glove.
At 13:06, Mercyhurst freshman Taylor Holstrom bagged his first career goal, a power play effort, converting a pass from Steve Cameron at the goalmouth to draw the Lakers within three goals at the end of two periods.
Mercyhurst then performed their third period magic to secure the 4-4 tie.
“It’s a marathon.” said Gotkin of the impact of one game on the season. “It’s not a sprint. Michigan’s a very, very good team. I have no doubt they’ll be an NCAA team. But, I can tell you, for us, this is significant. It’s certainly a good start. We have a long way to go, but I was very proud of the way our guys really competed and battled. At the end of the day, lots of really good teams come into this rink, go down 4-1 after two and it’s over. Our guys hung in there. They stuck with it. I’m very proud of our team.”
After a Sunday afternoon exhibition against Western Ontario tomorrow, Michigan (0-0-1) resumes the regular season with a pair of away tilts with Bowling Green next weekend. The Lakers (0-0-1) return to Mercyhurst Ice Center Sunday for an exhibition against Queens University prior to hosting Western Michigan for two contests next weekend.