College hockey is well known for dramatic comebacks. The wide-open nature of the game means that few leads are safe. But when Scott Champagne scored with 6:33 to play to give Mercyhurst a 4-0 lead over Sacred Heart on Saturday, it looked inevitable that the Lakers would put this one in the “W” column and earn a road split with the Pioneers.
Then things got weird.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that as a coach,” said Sacred Heart coach Sean Hannah. “I told my players after the game, ‘Very few get to experience something like that.'”
With 4:03 left in regulation, Pierre Luc O’Brien scored on the power play to make it 4-1. Things stayed that way until the 18:04 mark when Eric Giosa tallied to make it 4-2. Mercyhurst took another penalty a few seconds later, and with goaltender Jason Smith on the bench for an extra attacker, O’Brien stuck again at 18:30 to pull the Pioneers to within one.
But O’Brien and company weren’t finished. He got the game-tying goal, again with Smith pulled, to knot things up with just 13 seconds to play. The Pioneers iced the comeback at 3:44 of overtime when Alexandre Parent got the game winner on another power play.
Amazing. Five goals in a span of 7:47 to erase a four-goal deficit.
“We didn’t play a bad hockey game,” said Hannah. “Mercyhurst was able to capitalize on their chances and scored four goals. Our chances weren’t going in. I just kept telling the guys to get the first one and then keep going. We made some plays, started to capitalize, and got some breaks. The power play wasn’t effective throughout the game, but then we got two at the end. Things fell into place.
“It was a good character builder for our team. We had come from behind to win against Wayne State and made it a game with Michigan State after we were down 5-0. It was good experience to keep chipping away and keep going. We kept working and made some plays. We didn’t quit.”
The Pioneers host Holy Cross on Friday, then travel to face the Crusaders on Saturday.
“We have to keep the focus and the confidence we have right now,” said Hannah. “There are no easy nights in this league.”
Player of the Week
Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart – The senior had a huge weekend, scoring five goals and three assists in a critical sweep of Mercyhurst. He leads the Pioneers in scoring with 13 points.
Goaltender of the Week
Josh Kassel, Army – Kassel stopped 50 of 53 shots in a weekend sweep of AIC, helping the Black Knights to their best start in 11 years.
Rookie of the Week
Carl Hudson, Canisius – Hudson wins this award for the second time this season. He scored a pair of power play goals last weekend and now has five on the season to lead the team.
Reasons for Optimism
College hockey writers (including me) have been reporting for the last few weeks about Connecticut’s slow start. The Huskies opened the season 0-5 for the first time since 1961, making it look like the coaches’ preseason prediction of fourth place for UConn was optimistic. But don’t tell that to coach Bruce Marshall.
“Well, the ‘slow start’ included Bowling Green and Michigan, ” said Marshall. The Huskies lost 2-1 at Bowling Green and fell 7-5 at Michigan the following evening.
“I thought we played well that weekend,” said Marshall. “The first game went to overtime and against Michigan we were down 6-0 in the second period and made it a 6-5 game with 11 minutes to go.”
Marshall wasn’t disappointed with a couple of tough losses going into league play.
“I thought it would be a nice jump start (to the AHA schedule),” he said. “But give credit to Army. They played well and our special teams were awful. Then the next night, they beat us on special teams again.”
Army scored a total of seven power-play goals in a 5-4, 7-3 sweep of Connecticut on October 20 and 21. That put the Huskies behind the eight-ball at 0-4. Things got worse before they got better with a 6-2 loss at Mercyhurst before the ship was righted with a 5-4 overtime win the next night. UConn split with Bentley last weekend to go to 2-4 in conference play with a long way to go.
“We played well against Bentley both nights, but the shots just weren’t going in on Friday,” said Marshall. His squad outshot the Falcons 38-22 in a 3-1 loss and then 41-21 the next night in a 6-2 win.
This weekend, the Huskies host winless AIC before traveling to Yale on Saturday.
“Friday is a huge game for us,” said Marshall. “Coaches usually break up the season into pieces but at this point, we are just focused on Friday’s game. We’ve had some setbacks and it’s a chance to see if the things we’ve put in place are working. Yale a big game with an interstate rival, but we’re really just focusing on AIC at this point. They have stung us in the past, no pun intended. They have a way of knocking people off as the season goes on.”
Marshall is looking to senior captain Matt Scherer to help keep his team focused.
“Matt has an unbelievable leader for us,” said Marshall. “Every coach wants a player like that. He has a relentless work ethic and a tremendous attitude. He sets the example and as a leader he makes everyone accountable. I’m happy for him to have the success that he’s having.”
Scherer has a point in every game for the Huskies this season. On Friday, he tallied his 47th career goal, moving him into first place in the Division I era at Connecticut. Scherer scored again on Saturday.
With performances like that, Marshall is indeed optimistic. “Our goal is to be at .500 by Thanksgiving,” he said. “We need to make things happen in our next several games, but I think we’ll get there.”
Around the League
Army: The Black Knights (5-2-1) are off to their best start since 1995. Their unbeaten streak of six games in league play is the longest in school history at the Division I level.
Bentley: The Falcons are another team making history – their unbeaten streak got to four games on Friday before Bentley dropped Saturday’s game to UConn. A four game unbeaten streak doesn’t sound all that special, but it equaled the longest for the Falcons since moving to Division I.
Canisius: The Griffs’ freshman class continues to shine, accounting for two thirds of the team’s point production so far. Standouts include Carl Hudson (five goals) and Josh Heidinger (12 points). Canisius freshman have claimed four of the five Rookie of the Week awards from Atlantic Hockey so far this season.
Holy Cross: Senior captain James Sixsmith had a career-high five assists on Saturday in a 6-3 win over Canisius. His 15 points in seven games this season ranks him first in the nation in points per game (2.14). Sixsmith has 120 career points so far.