This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Nov. 11, 2004

Gotkin’s Perfect At 300

Seventeen years may seem like a long time to some of us, or a short segment of life to others.

To Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin, 17 years is simply a pleasure.

It was 17 years ago that the experience of being head coach at Mercyhurst began for Gotkin, who turned 45 last Sunday.

Two days before his birthday, though, Gotkin hit a coaching milestone — career win number 300 — with a 2-0 victory on the road at Army.

“I’ve been here a long time and that’s all that means,” jokes Gotkin about No. 300.

In truth, though, Gotkin’s 300 victories have a uniqueness to them.

For starters, all 300 victories have come at one school. In the era of successful coaches getting swept from one place to another, Gotkin has remained a Laker throughout his coaching career, despite many attempts to sway him away.

“I just love it here,” said Gotkin about Mercyhurst and Erie, Penn. “My family is from here. [My wife’s] family is here. All my good friends in my adult life are here and it’s been a great fit for us.”

About four years ago, possibly one of the toughest opportunities to turn down came Gotkin’s way when an East Coast Hockey League team offered him a position as head coach. For Gotkin, though, it wasn’t really even much of a consideration.

“Honestly, I haven’t considered any other job and I really haven’t looked for anything,” Gotkin said. “Every year is a challenge for us and our conference is continuing to get better.”

Gotkin’s career is further distinguished by his accomplishments. He’s successfully been part of a Lakers team that has elevated itself from Division III to Division II and ultimately Division I. Along the way, Gotkin has taken his team to the NCAA tournament at all three levels, making five NCAA appearances in all.

In other words, as long as Gotkin has been associated with the Lakers, so has success.

“It’s one of those things,” said Gotkin. “We have a culture here now that is still being defined and getting better, but it’s built on success. I’ve never sat down and thought about whether or not we’re successful. Maybe when I’m sitting in my rocking chair some day I can look back, but for now, it’s not something I think about.”

One of the toughest things that Gotkin has had to handle is location, location, location — especially now, as a member of Atlantic Hockey, much of Gotkin’s life is spent on a bus.

“If anything, I feel bad for our players because it’s a grind,” said Gotkin, whose club ironically is in the middle of a schedule that places the Lakers on the road seven out of eight weekends. “If anything, we know the drill well by now.”

Still, Gotkin said some of the most relaxing time in his week is spent on bus rides to and from rinks.

“Once you’re on the bus, you know that for the next eight hours you can relax and not deal with anything,” said Gotkin, who makes all of the arrangements for travel and meals for his team. He also says that travel, particularly early in the season, is good for the team because it brings them together quicker.

Looking to dish credit for his success, Gotkin is quick to point to two places: his coaches and his administration. Many of Gotkin’s assistants have gone on to positions at schools in the “Big Four” leagues. And his administration, from the president and athletic director down, have always shown a commitment to making the hockey program successful.

“All of this starts with the commitment from the administration,” Gotkin said. “[Mercyhurst’s] commitment has been tremendous throughout my career. Without that, I couldn’t win any number of games, especially 300.”

Asked about his potential for further milestones — like Boston College head coach Jerry York’s 700th win — Gotkin laughed.

“No one is confusing me with Jerry York,” said Gotkin. “To have my name mentioned in the same sentence as his is honor enough.”

One thing is sure: if Rick Gotkin’s name is associated with Mercyhurst and hockey, bet on success.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Tony Coskern, Holy Cross: Impressive is the only way to term Coskern’s performance last weekend in league play. Last year, Coskern didn’t score a single goal. Last weekend he potted three and added an assist in two games. Talk about improvement.

Rookie of the Week

Anthony Pellerin, Bentley: Pellerin’s five-point weekend was easily worthy of top rookie honors last week. Pellerin figured in all three goals in a 5-3 loss to Canisius on Friday night and then came back to add two more helpers in Saturday’s 5-3 upset of Holy Cross.

Goaltender of the Week

Andy Franck, Mercyhurst: Franck has taken over the number-one job in Erie this year (helped in part by an injury to Jordan Wakefield) and last weekend proved his worth. Franck stopped 45 of 48 shots on the weekend as the Lakers picked up two league wins over Army (in which Franck had the shutout) and Connecticut.

Holy Falcons! Cross Stumbles

Title defense isn’t supposed to be the easiest thing to accomplish. Holy Cross proved that last weekend.

One night after surviving against winless American International, rallying with three late goals to win, 3-1, the ‘Cross didn’t have the firepower to match its opponent, upstart Bentley. The Falcons got a two-goal game from Ryan Lessnau and 26 saves from goaltender Geordan Murphy to upset Holy Cross on the road, 5-3.

Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl admitted that it wasn’t exactly the best effort his team has put forth this season, but that fact shouldn’t take anything away from Bentley.

“They (Bentley) have a good club this year,” said Pearl. “They’re young and the have a lot of kids who can get up and down the sheet pretty quickly.

“We weren’t overly happy with our performance. We’ve played better games and hope to play much better games throughout this year, but take nothing away from them, because they did a good job.”

The fact that Holy Cross came away with any points in its first weekend of league play was lucky, in a way. Friday night, the Crusaders trailed AIC, 1-0, with six and a half minutes left to play. That was until Tony Coskern scored his first goal since January 3, 2003, to even the score, setting up Jan Landry to play the role of hero with the game winner with 1:55 remaining.

That game, according to Pearl, was very different from Saturday’s.

“Friday I thought we played well,” said Pearl. “We weren’t converting all the way, but that was a good hockey game.”

If there was a need for maybe Pearl and his club to take a little time to regroup, the hockey gods heard their prayers. Holy Cross will remain idle this weekend and rematch against AIC next Tuesday night at home.

Mea Culpa…

As a journalist, you never want to misquote anyone and I work hard to make sure that never happens.

But even when you avoid doing it as such, it doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear.

Recently, I quoted Pearl in a way that made it sound like his team has plans to lose any game against the number-one team in the country.

What Pearl was trying to say was that statistically speaking, any team is an underdog to the number-one team and that, basically, it’s an upset should they win.

As I wrote the story, I didn’t notice that the context in which I used the quote implied the former, not the latter. And never would I imply that Holy Cross or any team wouldn’t always give its best effort against No. 1.

Holy Cross, in fact, will get a chance to prove that in less than two weeks as the Crusaders take on the nation’s current number-one, Boston College, on November 22. Without a doubt, the Eagles will have all they can handle in a fired-up Holy Cross opponent.

Mea Culpa, Part II…

As if one screwup weren’t enough, it was pointed out to me that I also might have slighted our friends down in West Point with a comment in last week’s column.

As I talked about non-league play and the inability for many teams to get established programs to play them at home, I was remiss in not mentioning the fact that Army regularly plays home games against ECAC teams (Army used to be a member of the ECAC).

This year was no exception, as Rensselaer traveled to West Point on October 23 to play the Black Knights.