Overmatched Mercyhurst ready to spoil Gophers’ dreams of repeating

by Adam Fink

Mercyhurst’s men’s hockey coach Rick Gotkin is a realist.

He understands his fourth-seeded team is a large underdog when the Lakers face top-seeded Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA West Regional tonight at Mariucci Arena.

He also knows his club, ranked 28th in the Pairwise Rankings (a USCHO.com computer model that mimics the NCAA selection process), was only included among the field of 16 teams because his team won the MAAC tournament’s automatic bid.

In addition, Gotkin said every one of his players needs to have the game of their lives just for the contest to be close.

All that said, Gotkin is looking forward to his trip to Minneapolis. If the Lakers advance to Saturday’s second round, the team would face the winner of Friday’s contest between Ferris State and North Dakota.

“We are happy to be involved this year,” the Lakers tenured (1988-present) coach said. “At the end of the weekend, we want to know we did our best.”

Just getting the chance to make a mark in the postseason seemed like a dream in late December.

The Lakers (22-12-2) trailed conference rival Quinnipiac by 12 points in the standings and it appeared bleak that Mercyhurst would claim its third-straight MAAC title. In addition, the Bobcats ousted the Lakers in the conference tournament last season.

But after the holiday break, the team jelled, strong goaltending emerged and a young team came into its own.

Freshman Andy Franck started 27 games and posted a .910 saves percentage, with just under three goals allowed per game.

David Wrigley thrived during his second season in Erie, Penn., and led the team with 40 points.

Over its final 21 games, Mercyhurst posted an impressive 18-2-1 record and the Lakers cruised to the MAAC title.

And come conference tournament time this season, Mercyhurst didn’t bow out like 2002.

The Lakers are hoping to make a lasting impression in their second tournament appearance of the decade (2001).

“We come from a small college and we want to show 10,000-plus (at Mariucci Arena) who we are and what we can do,” Gotkin said. “You are always disappointed when you don’t win but the scoreboard isn’t our barometer.”

Gophers coach Don Lucia studied the Lakers’ 4-3 overtime win against Quinnipiac last Sunday and believes they will challenge Minnesota (24-8-9).

“We have to be ready to play, Lucia said. “It’s a one-game shot and they have the talent to pull off an upset.”

Playoff Lineup

Minnesota’s lineup for the playoffs has been pretty consistent, and Lucia said last Saturday’s lineup will look like tonight’s.

Expect all four lines to remain the same, with sophomore Garrett Smaagaard again playing in place of alternate captain Nick Anthony.

In goal, Travis Weber is now healthy and will start Friday. Justin Johnson will likely play Saturday if the Gophers win because of the 4 p.m. start time.

New look at Mariucci

The Gophers players will wake up in their own beds, drive their own cars and prepare for tonight’s game in their own locker room.

But just because Minnesota is at Mariucci Arena doesn’t make it a home game – at least in the NCAA’s eyes.

Mariucci Arena has undergone some physical changes in preparation for the West Regional.

The maroon “M” underneath center ice has been removed, in favor of a NCAA tournament logo. Instead, two small “M” logos have been placed adjacent to center ice, where advertisements have been removed.

In addition, all advertisements along the boards have been removed, again, in favor of NCAA tournament logos.

Facilities manager Craig Flor said the same entrance policies – such as bag searches and security roaming the stadium – will continue this weekend.