This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Longtime Mercyhurst coach Gotkin on cusp of 600 wins, says achievement would be ‘a program milestone’

Rick Gotkin is in his 36th season behind the Mercyhurst bench (photo: Mercyhurst Athletics).

When Mercyhurst defeated Bowling Green 4-3 in overtime last Friday, the school posted on X (formerly Twitter) that the victory was the 600th of coach Rick Gotkin’s career.

It turns out that after further review, it was “only” his 599th.

“There was a typo on my record,” said Gotkin. “But it doesn’t matter to me. I look at it as a program milestone. That achievement, should I be fortunate enough to get there, is really a program achievement. The coaches, the administrators, and the players all share in it.”

The New Hyde Park, N.Y. native took a winding road to get to Mercyhurst, arriving on campus in 1988. He’s now in his 36th season behind the Lakers’ bench.

Gotkin has coached in over 1,200 games at the same school, third all-time in Division I. His 599 wins leads all active coaches. He’s taken teams to the NCAA tournament in Division I, Division II and Division III, the only coach to do so. His teams have captured four regular season and three playoff titles and have qualified for postseason play in 33 of his 36 seasons.

A former player for Canton and Brockport, Gotkin majored in physical education and planned to be a teacher. But he got a coaching opportunity at Brockport and went on to be an interim head coach at Canton and then a player-coach in Scotland.

“I wasn’t much of a player, so as the coach I was smart enough not to play myself,” said Gotkin. “But I wanted to stay in hockey and had an opportunity to do so.”

Gotkin returned to the states to join Mike Addesa’s staff at Rensselaer before moving to a head coaching role at Mercyhurst, a new D-III program at the time. Gotkin shepherded the Lakers from Division III to Division II in 1992, and finally to Division I and MAAC/Atlantic Hockey in 1999.

In those early years, Gotkin did it all: coaching, recruiting…and laundry.

“My wife (Diane) and I used to come up on a Wednesday, it was our date night,” Gotkin said. “We’d pack the equipment to be ready for the weekend. She’d count how many rolls of black tape and clear tape we needed.

“On Sunday, we’d drag all the dirty socks and jerseys to the laundry and wash ’em. This went on for years. It just seemed normal then. I used to walk around the rink to pick up spare pucks. I still do.”

Gotkin’s challenge this season is one he’s faced before — a young team that has 11 freshmen and 2 transfers.

“I like our team” he said. “We’re got 16 or 17 returning players, and the freshmen have been good; they’ve pushed our upperclassmen.

“We’re still figuring things out, who can help us on any given night. Five of our first eight games have been nonconference and that afforded us the chance to use some different people.”

So far, there have been ups and downs.

“We lost a (2-1) lead against Ohio State (4-3 loss),” said Gotkin. “We led Notre Dame 3-1 in the second but they came back and won (4-3 in overtime).

“But we came back against Bowling Green and won in overtime.”

In that contest, Mercyhurst erased a 3-1 Falcons lead, getting the game-winner from Phillip Waugh with just over a minute left in OT.

Owen Say, who has seen the majority of time in net, stopped 30 shots for the win, including 16 in the third period.

The Lakers, who are 0-0-2 in league play with two shootout wins, travel to first-place Rochester Institute of Technology this weekend.

“It’s a huge task this weekend at RIT,” said Gotkin. “We know how good they are. It’s another good test for us. I’m excited to see how good we can become.”

It will be the next attempt(s) at win number 600.

After 36 seasons in Erie, Gotkin says even if that never comes (which it will), he’s able to look back on his and the Lakers’ accomplishments.

“It doesn’t feel like (36 years) until I say it,” he said. “I’ve always been happy at Mercyhurst. I kind of know what happy looks like for me, and this is it.”