After rough start, week off does wonders for Mercyhurst

After weekends in Omaha and Fairbanks that saw them open the season 0-4, the Mercyhurst Lakers had a weekend off before their home opener with Rochester Institute of Technology and a game at Cornell.

The downtime seems to have worked. Mercyhurst defeated RIT 2-1 on Friday and then beat Cornell 5-4 in Ithaca, N.Y., on Saturday.

“We really needed the week off,” Lakers coach Rick Gotkin said. “We didn’t do anything different [in preparation] but had some extra days off for guys to refocus.”

Senior goaltender Max Strang, who played in 10 games in his previous three years with the Lakers, has played every minute so far this season and came up big in both games last weekend, especially on Friday, when he made 49 saves on 50 shots.

“I’m really happy for Max,” said Gotkin. “He’s a great kid and he’s worked really hard. He’s been patient, waiting a long time to get his chance and he’s making the most of it.”

The Lakers have 12 freshmen on the roster, and several made key contributions over the weekend. Four rookies got their first career goals, with Ryan Misiak and Chris Bodo scoring the goals against RIT and Nardo Nagtzaam and Matthew Zay tallying at Colgate. Nagtzaam, a product of Nijmegen, Netherlands, had a pair of goals and an assist against the Big Red.

“We had a lot of that [scoring from freshman] and we’re going to need more,” said Gotkin. “We don’t need them all to score all the time but we do need contributions from everyone. The freshmen are coming along well.”

The Lakers play their next six games at home, including a pair this weekend against a dangerous Connecticut team.

“They’re really good,” said Gotkin. “They’ve been very tough the last few seasons and this will be a good test for us.”

Players of the week

All three players of the week this time around are rookies. From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:

Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Brian Sheehan, Sacred Heart

The freshman had four goals last weekend, two in each game, in a pair of losses for the Pioneers.

Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Colby Drost, Niagara

Drost made the most of his first collegiate start, making 42 saves in a 2-1 win over Colgate. He’s the fourth goaltender used by Niagara coach Dave Burkholder already this season, and looks to challenge for more time.

Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Steve Weinstein, Bentley

The Los Angeles native had four assists in the Falcons’ 7-3 win over Sacred Heart, the most helpers in a game for Bentley in four seasons.

Players of the month

Air Force swept the first monthly awards of the season:

Atlantic Hockey player of the month for October:
Kyle De Laurell, Air Force

The junior forward already has six goals and 10 points this season. He’s tied for 16th in the nation in goals per game (0.86).

Other players nominated: Steve Mele, American International; Kyle Gibbons, Canisius; Brant Harris, Connecticut; Adam Schmidt, Holy Cross; Derek Elliott, Mercyhurst; Scott Arnold, Niagara; Trevor Lewis, Robert Morris.

Atlantic Hockey goalie of the month for October:
Stephen Caple, Air Force

The senior has stepped up after an injury to incumbent starter Jason Torf, going 3-0-2. His 1.93 goals against average leads the league.

Other goalies nominated: Garrett Bartus, Connecticut; Eric Levine, Robert Morris.

Atlantic Hockey rookie of the month for October:
Cole Gunner, Air Force

Gunner has been a sniper so far this season, racking up two goals and nine assists so far. His 11 points are tops on the team.

Other rookies nominated: Alex Grieve, Bentley; Nardo Nagtzaam, Mercyhurst; Tyson Wilson, Robert Morris.

A trio of honorables from AIC

Three players from American International, while not earning all-league honors, had pretty good weeks to help the Yellow Jackets to a split. Junior Steve Mele had both AIC goals in a 5-2 loss at No. 11 Union, while classmate Adam Pleskach had a goal and two assists in a 7-4 win over Sacred Heart. Rookie Jason Popek also contributed a pair of goals in that game.

Close calls

Air Force is 3-0-2 and sits atop the AHA standings early in the season, but not without a lot of nail biting. Six of the Falcons’ seven games this season have either been ties, one-goal games, or not decided until an empty-net goal.

Do unto others

One of those close games was last Saturday, when visiting Canisius pulled off an impressive comeback, scoring two extra-attacker goals in the final 1:34 to earn a tie. It’s usually the Falcons that pull off the last-second heroics, especially at home.

“Our kids played so hard and worked their butts off tonight, but we cheated ourselves at the end,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said after the game. “I love the kind of effort we had tonight and our game was pretty good overall. But this one is a kick in the stomach.”

Snowed out

Army left West Point Saturday morning with the intent of playing at Connecticut that night. But the freak October storm that paralyzed much of the Northeast kept the Black Knights bus from reaching Storrs, Conn. The game has been rescheduled for Feb. 7, 2012.

Jinxed?

RIT’s Frank Ritter Arena has historically been a tough place for the opposition, with the Tigers holding a 25-2-5 record in league play there over the past two seasons. The rink is sporting a $4 million expansion this season, featuring new locker rooms.

But since the Tigers have moved into their new digs, they have not scored a goal at Ritter Arena. A scoreless tie with Niagara and a 5-0 loss to Union means zero goals in 125 minutes of play so far, the longest streak at home in school history. RIT hosts Army for a pair of games this weekend.

Taking one in the stats

Robert Morris had a tough weekend at Michigan State, staying with the Spartans in both games through two periods but falling twice. Eric Levine made 31 saves in a 5-2 loss on Friday for the Colonials, while Brooks Ostergard stopped 34 shots in a 6-2 defeat on Saturday.

Coach Derek Schooley thought his netminders deserved better fates.

“Brooks and Eric Levine had a tough weekend goals-against-wise, but I don’t think their play is indicative of the score,” he said after Saturday’s game. “We have two very competent goaltenders that did not get any help this weekend. It’s unfortunate for them, it’s unfortunate for their save percentage and for their goals against average.”

Extended sentence

The Shane Madolora saga continues at RIT. The team found out last Friday that what was thought to be a three-game suspension by the NCAA for the senior goaltender was actually five games.

Madolora had failed to properly apply for eligibility in 2009, and the NCAA recently discovered the error. The internal department that found the problem recommended a three-game suspension, but a disciplinary committee that has the final say increased it by a pair of games.

“When he got to our school he was certified, eligible, no question about grades, he’s a very good student,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “He sat out the year (2008-09) and then he was supposed to request reinstatement and he did not.”

But Wilson says the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

“I’m stunned,” he said. “I was expecting an apology for the two games he had to sit out. I can’t even explain it to you. Where is five games coming from? The person working on it recommended three and I don’t know where [even] three was coming from.”

Madolora should be back for the Tigers’ Nov. 11 game against Air Force.

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