The fifth seeded Mercyhurst Lakers defeated fourth seeded Sacred Heart Pioneers, 4-1, in the Play-In game of the Atlantic Hockey Tournament at the Blue Cross Arena, in Rochester, N.Y.
“We’re very excited we won a tough game,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. “That was a close game. The score wasn’t indicative of what type of game that was. Sacred Heart played us very hard. It was a battle.”
The win was made possible thanks to 39 saves by Matt Lundin.
“He’s the center of our universe,” Gotkin said. “You don’t have a chance to win championships unless you absolutely get great goaltending, We call it championship goaltending, and Matt Lundin has supplied that to us.”
“He made some good saves in the first,” Sacred Heart captain Alex Parent said. “He’s a big guy. He comes out really far in his crease. There’s not much angles to shoot at.”
The game was just like Mercyhurst’s season — started out slow and finished with a flourish.
“Hockey is a game of momentum,” Gotkin said.
“I was really pleased with our start in the first period,” Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hanna said. “We had kind of a lull in the second period. It was stop and go in the third.”
Sacred Heart jumped all over Mercyhurst in the opening minutes of the game, nearly scoring numerous times including the first rush nine seconds in. Sacred Heart ended the period outshooting the Lakers, 11-4.
“It didn’t seem that bad,” Matt Lundin said. “The team played well. They blocked a lot of shots.”
However, it was Mercyhurst who struck first eight seconds after the first penalty of the game at 6:16. Jeff Terminesi sent a soft shot from the middle of the blueline. With the puck coming in knew high, Stefan Drew went to glove it.
Matt Pierce, in front of Drew, thwarted that plan when he deflected the puck down, below the glove. That was the Lakers sixth straight game with a man-advantage tally.
“Scoring that first power-play goal got us to settle down,” Gotkin said.
Sacred Heart returned the favor on their second power play. Dave Grimson’s shot from the left faceoff circle was deflected in by David Jarman at 9:13.
Once again, Mercyhurst struck first in a period, taking a 2-1 lead at 1:58 of the second. Cullen Eddy on the right side was in deep and with nothing to do with the puck, he shot. Drew played it poorly, and it squeezed through.
“The defenseman tried to chip it up the boards,” Eddy said. “I heard guys shouting for the puck, so I threw it at the net and saw it go in.”
“He kind of chipped it by our defenseman and had a sharp angle,” Drew said. “I was cheating a little bit on it. He kind of surprised me a little and threw it at my five-hole.”
The Lakers thought they had a two-goal lead at 9:51 when Drew didn’t quite have the puck covered. However, the whistle blew just as a Mercyhurst player swooped in and scooped the loose puck into the net.
After that non-goal, Mercyhurst started to dominate play for the first time. Drew was forced to start coming up with some big saves, and he did. This helped the shots on goal to be closer for the period which Sacred Heart still led, 10-9.
With less than a minute left in the period, Sacred Heart got another break with the puck loose in front of the crease. This was because the shot literally ripped the helmet off of Drew’s head, resulting in an automatic stoppage of play.
The Lakers finally did get their two-goal lead when Ben Cottreau scored a second after their fourth power play ended at 10:14. It came after tremendous pressure by Mercyhurst during the power play, including hitting the post twice.
“Easy goal,” Cottreau said. “I’ll take it.”
With the teams skating four aside, Chris Risi scored the prettiest goal of the night to put the game away at 17:30. Racing down the right side, when he got to the right faceoff circle, he fired a shot over the right shoulder of Drew and into the far upper corner of the net. Lundin helped cap the win by being credited with an assist on the goal.
“Lucky bounce,” Lundin joked.
Sacred Heart ends their season at 16-19-3.
“Our guys learned this year how to be good,” Gotkin said. “I think the guys learned a great deal from this season. The last few weeks has been tremendous.”
Mercyhurst (14-18-6) will now face top seeded Army in the semifinal round at 4:00 on Saturday. The Lakers are the only conference team to sweep Army this year.
“We have a great deal of respect for Army’s program,” Gotkin said. “They’re very deserving of the regular season championship.”