One week after the non-league almosts of Atlantic Hockey had fans shaking their heads, the rested and refreshed Mercyhurst Lakers pulled off the upset of the year to date.
Having played nothing but an exhibition game in 20 days, the Lakers marched into Ohio State and knocked off the No. 12 team in the country, giving the league its first win over a nationally-ranked opponent in nearly three years and the first since changing from MAAC to Atlantic Hockey last June.
“You’d think we won a national championship around here,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin of the victory’s post-mortem. “There’s more phone calls and email from people then when we went to the NCAAs (in 2001 and 2003).”
The win was a culmination of almost-wins for Atlantic Hockey teams in the first month of play. Quinnipiac took Michigan to the brink twice, Canisius tied and dropped an OT decision to Lake Superior State and UConn let slip a three-goal third period lead against Rensselaer — all of these coming just a week earlier.
So when the buzzer sounded in Columbus on Saturday with the scoreboard reading 3-2 in favor of the Lakers, there’s no surprise that a cheer went up around Atlantic Hockey-land.
“A lot of coaches feel that whether in conference or out of conference, we’re trying to gain respect. If we go out and play well, that sends a loud message, particularly to recruits. Atlantic Hockey teams get better and better every year.
“It’s a real compliment to the players who make up the teams in Atlantic Hockey.”
Said Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh: “It’s huge. It’s great to see and great for Atlantic Hockey. Ohio State has been getting some recognition, so to go in there and win that game is huge for [Mercyhurst].
“I think it helps with both recruiting and scheduling. When you look at what these schools have done, it speaks to our league as improving each year.”
The win was obviously special for Gotkin, but even more so for second-year associate head coach Dave Smith. Smith is an alumnus of Ohio State, having played for the Buckeyes before launching an eight-year professional career.
According to Gotkin, it was Smith who sparked the club that night.
“We came out in the first period and kind of stood around and watched,” said Gotkin. “We weren’t quite sure how good Ohio State was and how good we were.
“After the first period, [Smith] came in the coaches’ room and was really ticked. So I told him to go in the room and tell [the team].”
According to Gotkin, Smith’s speech was basic but full of fire, telling the team to play without fear.
“He told them that we have a good Atlantic Hockey league team and that when we play in the league, we play with confidence. But when we come out of conference we don’t play the same.”
Mercyhurst got what Ohio State coach John Markell deemed “two lucky goals,” and clung to a one-goal lead late in the third before holding on for the win.
Quipped Gotkin of Markell’s commentary on the ‘Hurst’s goals: “Isn’t there luck in every athletic event? What puts you on one side of that bounce or the other? Is it the hard work? If it’s a lucky bounce going in, so be it. But they were goals on the road against a good team and a good goaltender.”
The win was the first for Atlantic Hockey teams against a nationally-ranked opponent since Quinnipiac beat Union on December 3, 2000. Union fell from the top 15 that week and went on to lose 12 of its next 14 games. This week’s USCHO.com poll saw Ohio State fall out of the top 15 for the first time this year.
Player of the Week
Peter Rynshoven Mercyhurst (Sr, F, Fairbanks, AK) – Rynshoven figured in two of Mercyhurst’s three goals as the Lakers upset No. 12 Ohio State 3-2 Friday in Columbus. Rynshoven scored his first goal of the season, a power-play goal in the third, which proved to be the game-winner. He also assisted on an earlier power-play tally in the third that put the Lakers ahead to stay.
Goaltenders of the Week
Andy Franck, Mercyhurst (So, G, Lakewood, OH) – Franck stopped 28 of 30 (.933) Ohio State shots Friday as Mercyhurst defeated OSU 3-2. Franck was named the game’s first star.
Justin Eddy, Quinnipiac (Sr, G, Apple Valley, MN) – One outing after keeping No. 6 Michigan in check and making 51 saves in a 3-2 loss, Eddy responded with another stellar outing against another powerhouse program. On Friday night, Eddy turned away 46 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss at Wisconsin. It marked the sixth straight one-goal loss for the Bobcats against a member of one of the Big Four conferences. For the season, Eddy has a .939 save percentage and a 2.30 GAA.
Freshman of the Week
Jon Asselstine, Mercyhurst (Fr, F, Barrie, Ontario) – Asselstine scored his first collegiate goal Friday in Columbus, as Mercyhurst surprised the Buckeyes 3-2. The second period goal gave the Lakers a 1-0 lead. It was his only shot of the game.
Roberts Shines in Knights’ AH Opener
Playing a Bentley team that it hadn’t beat in two seasons, Army relied upon its best area of play to get its first Atlantic Hockey win: goaltending.
Netminder Brad Roberts held Bentley in check and pushed a 1-1 goaltending duel to the final minutes, when Army’s Chad Mayfield buried the game winner. The Knights added an empty netter for the 3-1 final.
Said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist: “[The game] could’ve gone either way but when it comes down to it, [Roberts] was the difference.”
Soderquist likes the young Roberts, who as a rookie a season ago shared the award for MAAC Goaltender of the Year with Sacred Heart’s Eddy Ferhi, who now plays in the Anaheim Mighty Ducks organization.
“He’s sharp and stays focused,” said Soderquist. “He never flops around. He just makes the save and is back up again.”
Roberts is the second goaltender in three seasons at Army to be considered a league standout. John Yaros, who left Army last year, currently is on the roster at UMass-Lowell. As a transfer, Yaros won’t be eligible to play until near the holiday break but once in the lineup is expected to challenge for the top job at Lowell.
Ironically, Yaros and Roberts are cut from the same cloth. Both played their junior hockey for Apple Core in New York, prompting Soderquist to quip: “We’ve been trying to spend some time at Apple Core, figuring maybe we’ll get a goalie from there too.”
Frozen Four Revisited
Last year’s Frozen Four at the HSBC Arena brought college hockey life to the city of Buffalo. Housing two teams in Canisius and Niagara, the city showed its northern hospitality well in handling the crowds of hockey fanatics.
Last weekend was the miniature version of that event when the Punch Imlach Hockey Showcase took stage at the HSBC. Upsets were the name of the game on day two. After losing, 8-2, on Friday night at New Hampshire, Canisius tied Lowell, 2-2, in a game that saw Griffs goalie Bryan Worosz turn aside 31 River Hawk shots.
The early game on Saturday featured the ultimate upset, with Niagara soundly beating No. 1 New Hampshire, 5-2, a night after falling 6-1 to Lowell.
In terms of the atmosphere and crowd for the Showcase, Cavanaugh said, “It could’ve been better.
“When you play in an 18,000-seat facility, having 2,000 fans just doesn’t cut it. It’s tough to play in those big buildings, but it’s a great experience for our kids. To play there and to have the number-one team in the country there is a great experience.”
Facing Number One
Though Canisius left last weekend satisfied with a 2-2 tie against Lowell, Friday night’s contest against UNH was anything but. The Griffs spotted the Wildcats a 5-0 lead through two periods and stumbled to an 8-2 loss to open the Showcase.
The score sounds ugly, but didn’t seem to bother Cavanaugh.
“We had a couple of breakdowns against UNH on Friday and that cost us,” said Cavanaugh. “They came in focused and you could tell. The first 13 or 14 minutes of the first period, I thought we played real solid hockey. But then we had a bad giveaway that cost us a goal, then they got another one. By the time the second period came, it was all over.”
Cavanaugh said, though, despite the drubbing and the fact that the team is winless (0-3-3) through six games, the locker room is positive.
“We’re very upbeat,” said Cavanaugh. “We feel we’re playing pretty good hockey and we could use a few bounces to go our way right now. There are areas that we need to work on, in particular special teams, but this team knows we’re much better than last year.”
Quote of the Week
After Canisius drew 2-2 with Lowell on Saturday night, Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald was going on about the fact that the River Hawks had outshot the Griffs, 33-17.
Said MacDonald: “It was a game that I thought we deserved better from. We deserved the win, we had ample opportunities to score. If you look at the shot chart, you can see that we dominated in the second period, but we failed to get more than one goal past their goaltender.”
Canisius’s Cavanaugh used a golf analogy to respond to MacDonald, for whom the term “avid golfer” would be an understatement.
“I told coach MacDonald that we both shot 72. He might have hit 14 greens [in regulation], and I saved a lot of pars with a chip and a putt. But in the end we both shot 72.”
The Week Ahead
…begins right now, as Mercyhurst and Canisius renew their age-old rivalry on Thursday night in Buffalo. Connecticut, coming off a weekend road split with Alabama-Hustsville, and Quinnipiac — itself returning from two weeks on the road — will meet in the first Atlantic Hockey contest for both schools. Army and Bentley rematch last weekend’s bout, this time at West Point.
AH’s non-league battles continue with Holy Cross traveling Saturday to Dartmouth, Sacred Heart on Saturday to Clarkson, and Bentley to Union on Sunday.
The running tally on non-league games isn’t all that impressive, though as already mentioned, many of the road losses have been close games. Atlantic Hockey is a combined 3-18-3 against non-league foes, with two wins coming against the CHA and Mercyhurst’s win over Ohio State the lone victory over the CCHA.
Paula Weston contributed to this column.