Mercyhurst ‘looking to start again’ after offseason losses

Decimated by graduation and transfers, Mercyhurst must replace 60 percent of its offense as well as longtime starting goaltender Ryan Zapolski.

“This is one of the youngest teams we’ve had,” said coach Rick Gotkin, who is entering his 24th season behind the bench, coaching every year of varsity hockey at Mercyhurst. “You can look at what we’ve lost but we have 12 freshmen that we like a lot. We’re looking to start again. I like our talent level.”

Besides losing graduating seniors Scott Pitt (41 points last season) and Mike Gurtler (28), Phil Ganand left early for a professional contract, and defenseman Nate Jensen and forward Taylor Holstrom transferred to Penn State. Holstrom was the rookie of the year in Atlantic Hockey last season. In all, eight of the team’s top 10 scorers are gone.

“It was a shock,” said Gotkin, referring to the transfers. “But we’re focused on what we have and not on what we don’t. Our goal is to finish in the top four, and I think that’s a reasonable goal based on what I have seen out of this team so far.”

Senior Max Strang is the only returning goalie with any collegiate experience. He’s joined by freshmen Jimmy Sarjeant and Jake Williams.

“[Strang] is the only goaltender with [college] experience, so he’s the incumbent,” said Gotkin. “But all three will see playing time.”

Junior Paul Chiasson is the top returning scorer with 37 points last season. His 17 goals were second on the team. Kevin Noble leads a defense that returns four starters.

As usual, the Lakers open with a tough schedule. They start the season at Omaha in the Maverick Stampede tournament and then travel to Alaska for the Gold Rush tourney.

“It’s great from a bonding standpoint,” said Gotkin. “We’ll be a team by the time we get back.

“And there won’t be anywhere to hide (playing strong teams out of the gate). We’ll know what we have right away.”

About the Lakers

2010-11 overall record: 15-18-4

2010-11 AHA record: 12-13-2 (seventh)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Seventh

Key losses: Scott Pitt (F), Mike Gurtler (F), Ryan Zapolski (G)

Players to watch: Paul Chiasson (sr., F), Grant Blakey (jr., F), Kevin Noble (sr., D)

Impact rookie: Ryan Misiak had 58 points in the USHL last season.

Why the Lakers will finish higher than the coaches poll: Expectations are low for Mercyhurst for the first time in quite a while. If teams take the Lakers lightly, they’ll be in trouble.

Why the Lakers will finish lower than the coaches poll: If the new players don’t adjust quickly and a go-to goaltender doesn’t emerge, the Lakers could be in for a down season.