A look back at the weekend that was as the road to Rochester reaches its end:
Sports Giveth, Sports Taketh Away
We start with the most obvious talking point – the wild three game series between Bentley and Mercyhurst and its unpredictable ending.
After a scoreless regulation in Game One, and after being outshot 40-28, the Lakers scored in the first five minutes of overtime to win on Friday, 1-0. On Saturday, the Falcons potted four goals in the first five minutes of the second period en route to a 5-3 victory, again outshooting the Lakers, 37-29. On Sunday, in the only Game Three for Atlantic Hockey’s quarterfinals round, Bentley dominated time of possession through the zones and led, 2-0, 13 minutes into the third period.
That’s when the Laker offense woke up – in 14 seconds. Matthew Zay and Chris Bodo scored to tie up the game and send it into the later stages with an eye for overtime. But with 10 seconds left, Mercyhurst had one last rush. Zac Frischmon went up the left wing, zipped a pass across the circles for Nardo Nagtzaam, and watched as the senior turned the red light on and sent his bench into a frenzy with 5.5 seconds left.
Mercyhurst 3. Bentley 2.
“I (was) absolutely stunned,” said Laker head coach Rick Gotkin after the victory. “I thought Bentley played great this weekend, and I really don’t know what to say. We know that goals are all about momentum, and we got one, then we got the second there. We were just thinking about ‘Okay let’s get to overtime’ and then all of a sudden we score with 5.5 seconds left, and I really don’t know what to say. Hockey’s a game about bounces, and we got the bounces, and we’ll take those bounces. We’ll take this win, and we’re happy to advance. But we know we played and excellent, excellent team in Bentley.”
In going down to the absolute final wire, the two teams put on a display of hockey that gave the paying customers exactly what they could’ve hoped for. There were 31 shots, 19 of which came from the Lakers, with just one penalty called – a stark contrast from a disjointed first two periods where the men wearing stripes threatened to take over the game (and at times did just that). The first two frames featured 15 penalties, including nine in the first period, before the refs put their noisemakers away and let the two teams skate it out. Once that happened, the skill took over and the teams opened up a display commensurate with the drama of a deciding playoff game.
The final goal by Nagtzaam was an illustration in perhaps the best part about sports – the contrasting emotions of elation for one team against the bitterness of defeat of the other. “I didn’t see it because I had my eyes closed, and that’s the truth,” said Gotkin. “I was thinking about getting to overtime to take our swings because it had been a tough night for us to see what happens. Five seconds left – the puck goes in, but I never saw it. But I was high fiving with everyone else.”
In a year in which the two teams played seven games, all but the second game of the series were decided by one goal or less. Sure enough, the two games Mercyhurst won in the playoffs were one goal games. Sometimes sports don’t add up, sometimes they do, but one thing’s for sure – it was one heckuva ride.
The Road To Rochester Reaches Its Final Stop
With their win, the Lakers qualified for the AHC semifinals for the 13th time since joining the old MAAC in 1999-2000. They round out a star-studded, wide-open field featuring the top three seeds, a hometown favorite, two past champions, and the preseason #1.
Robert Morris – defending AHC champs and first place finishers tape-to-tape the whole season as a nationally-ranked power – will play Mercyhurst – the preseason #1 team – in the first semifinal on Friday at 5 PM. Following the conclusion, second-seeded Canisius – the 2013 champion and last year’s league finalist – will attempt to make a third straight championship game against a whole lotta orange. They take on RIT, the hometown favorite who call Blue Cross Arena their second home.
It’s a series that’ll crown one champion with one berth to the NCAA Tournament.
In their previous three meetings, the RIT Tigers didn’t so much as score a single goal against the Air Force Falcons. All of that changed at the Polisseni Center this weekend when RIT won a hard-fought 2-1 decision on Friday before hitting the throttle button on Saturday. They scored seven goals against Air Force while outshooting the Falcons 43-27.
Up 2-1 after two, the third period might’ve been the most satisfying period of hockey in years for RIT fans. They scored 17 seconds in to go up 3-1, then added a fourth goal eight minutes later. With six minutes to go and down by a pair, Air Force pulled their goalie, allowing the Tigers to pot an empty net goal. Air Force did score one more, but another empty net goal put RIT up 6-2. For good measure, they added another one on the power play inside of two minutes. Though Air Force scored one late, the 7-3 victory was an offensive display that has the Tigers possibly hitting their stride at the right time.
It’s a scary thought when the road to Rochester leads….well…right through Rochester. It also means home ice advantage before thousands of orange-clad rabid fans and a return to the semifinal round for the Corner Crew. So hats off to them for exorcising some ghosts left over from the old Ritter Arena.