Fine Champagne

He began the year on the bench for Mercyhurst. He ended as the league tournament’s Most Valuable Player having netted possibly the biggest goal in school history when his overtime game winner against Quinnipiac gave Mercyhurst the Atlantic Hockey Championship.

Scott Champagne is simply a quiet, unassuming player. But taking anything for granted if you’re his opposition likely will result in your goaltender getting a quick sunburn.

“He doesn’t say much,” said Lakers head coach Rick Gotkin of Champagne, a 3.2 grade-point-average student athlete. “He really keeps to himself. It’s hard to read where Scott is or what he’s thinking.”

As quiet as he may be off the ice, though, Champagne is definitely loud in many ways on the ice. He speaks with his stick, having posted 26 points as a freshman and this season put up 37 points including 12 goals.

“In my mind, he’s quickly become one of the top offensive guys in our league,” said Gotkin. “I think he will be for a couple more years.”

In the Atlantic Hockey championship game, it was Champagne that ended the league’s first-ever overtime title tilt. His goal at 4:56 of the first extra session gave the Lakers a 3-2 victory, their third league title and a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

It certainly was a fitting end to a breakthrough season, which for Champagne didn’t exactly start as planned.

“We were mad at him at the beginning of the year because we didn’t think he spent enough time in the weight room this summer,” said Gotkin. “He didn’t come back to school in the shape we’d hoped.”

As a result, Gotkin and his coaching staff decided to bench Champagne on a couple of separate occasions early in the season.

“He worked hard and he’s gotten himself back in the shape he should be,” said Gotkin. “He worked his way into the lineup.”

Truth be told, that’s likely a major relief for the Lakers coaches, particularly since the game-winning goal against Quinnipiac extended Champagne’s scoring streak to 18 games.

“There’s no doubt that [Scott] could’ve ended up [playing for] a better-known Division I team,” said Gotkin, “but a lot of coaches out there might have questioned whether or not he came to play every day.

“We knew we were getting a very talented player. His big thing has been to prove it every night and he’s been doing it all year.”

If there’s any knock on Champagne it’s that he concentrates primarily on goal scoring. But as Gotkin’s offensive-minded strategy has evolved over the years, one of the areas that had to become a major focus was defense.

“Like a lot of the offensive players that we get, Scott wasn’t asked to play a lot of defensive hockey in juniors,” said Gotkin. That’s not his main attribute. He’s an offensive threat that scores goals and makes plays.

“But he knows to continue to help our team, he has to play defense and back check and right now, he’s doing that stuff better.”

Still, Champagne’s career, as it continues to evolve at Mercyhurst, will likely be known more for his offensive contributions that his ability to back check and play defense.

In the Atlantic Hockey playoffs, Champagne scored not only the championship-winning goal, he also buried the go-ahead goal in the second period against Holy Cross in the semifinals, a game that Mercyhurst won, 4-3 in overtime.

“He’s an ultra-talented kid,” said Gotkin. “When he really wants to work at it, he’s one of the top guys in our conference.”

His late-season performance almost makes it hard to remember the guy who returned to camp out of shape.

“He’s a good kid,” said Gotkin. “We’re looking for two more great seasons with him.”

And it’s likely that you’d believe that when the season begins next year, there will be absolutely no reason to keep Champagne out of the lineup.