In all three previous Atlantic Hockey preseason coaches’ polls, the Mercyhurst Lakers came out on top. Coach Rick Gotkin thought that the streak would come to an end with this season’s poll.
“This was the year,” said Gotkin. “I was pretty sure, based on all we lost and the success some other teams had last season.”
But when the poll was revealed last Wednesday, the Lakers were again on top, getting seven of the 10 first-place votes.
“I was honestly surprised,” Gotkin said. “It feels great that coaches in our conference have the respect they have for our program. It’s a great compliment.”
The Lakers lost a total of nine players from last year’s squad, including Scott Borrelli, whose 1.55 points per game was tops in Division I. Also gone is defenseman Jamie Hunt, who decided to forgo his senior season and signed with the Washington Capitals. While Gotkin was sorry to see Hunt go, he said it was the right decision.
“Jamie did absolutely the right thing with the contract they offered,” said Gotkin. “He got a nice bonus and a chance to go right to an NHL team. It also shows that players from Atlantic Hockey can fit in with top players around the country. We’ve got more scouts coming around now to little Mercyhurst College. We had scouts at our practice on Saturday. It’s a great thing for the program and the league.”
But Borrelli, Hunt, forward Scott Reynolds (28 points last season) and the rest of the departures leave a huge hole to fill.
“It’s a challenge, but we have a lot coming back and I really like our incoming group of players,” Gotkin said. “Our program has always been good when our freshman class has played great. They push the other guys. I think we have some of that this season.”
Offense should not be a problem. Expected to have another big season are forwards Ben Cottreau (51 points last season) and Scott Champagne (50 points). Chris Trafford had an outstanding freshman campaign with 12 goals and 12 assists.
“We want to get better on team defense and penalty kill,” said Gotkin. “I think we will. Sometimes last season we had a hard time finding some depth. I think we have it this year. We’ve got four strong lines and six good ‘D.'”
In goal, expect sophomore Tyler Small to get the bulk of the work early. “He’s our starter right now,” said Gotkin. “But I like all of our guys. Mike Ella has proven himself. He won us a championship two years ago. It’s tough to get three guys work, but we’ll see what happens.”
While the rest of the league thinks the Lakers will come out on top, Gotkin’s goals are more down to earth.
“It’s important that we finish in the top four and get that home playoff game,” he said. “That home game really helps with the travel.”