Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Mercyhurst

The craziness that exuded the conference tournaments this season carried into Atlantic Hockey as well, and a team on RPI's schedule last season, Mercyhurst, were one of the beneficiaries. They didn't grab the brass ring - owing to the presence of another unexpectedly successful team, Canisius - but an outstanding March has left the Lakers in a good position to take another run at glory in Atlantic Hockey.

Nickname: Lakers
Location: Erie, PA
Founded: 1926
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2005
Last Frozen Four: 1995 (Division II)
Coach: Rick Gotkin (26th year)
2012-13 Record: 19-17-5 (12-11-4 Atlantic Hockey, 6th place)
Series: RPI leads, 6-2-0
First Game: November 25, 2000 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 17, 2012 (Troy, NY)
Last MU win: November 28, 2008 (Troy, NY)

2013-14 games: November 22-23, 2013 (Erie, PA)

Key players: D Nick Jones, sr.; F Daniel O'Donoghue, sr.; F Kyle Just, sr.; G Jordan Tibbett, sr.; F Daniel Bahntge, jr.; F Chris Bodo, jr.; F Zac Frischmon, jr.; D Grant Gettinger, jr.; F Ryan Misiak, jr.; F Nardo Nagtzaam, jr.; D Tyler Shiplo, jr.; F Matthew Zay, jr.; F Kyle Cook, so.; F Mike Sones, fr.; F Kyle Dutra, fr.; D Philippe Drouin, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
After a 4-1 win over a resurgent UConn team that was supposed to be Niagara's only real competition in the Atlantic Hockey tournament, the Lakers ended up squaring off not against the Purple Eagles, but against one of their long-time rivals from back in the days of the MAAC - Canisius. The Golden Griffins put a serious hurting on Mercyhurst as the Lakers fell 7-2 in a lopsided championship game, but the disappointing end was part of a final month that saw Mercyhurst go 5-2-2 to close out the team's second straight solid year.

The Lakers had a younger squad last season, but it was a team largely led by its juniors and sophomores, players who are now seniors and juniors. Of the team's top seven scorers, five return. That includes Zay, the overall leading scorer last season, and Misiak and Bodo, who paced the team with 18 goals each.

However, as much scoring as Mercyhurst brings back, they're probably going to want to be a little less top-heavy when it comes to putting the puck in the net. Outside of the top seven scorers, the Lakers got just 12 goals all season from their forwards farther down the depth chart. Part of that is due to injury - Nagtzaam, who had a stellar freshman season, missed most of the year, as did Cook during his freshman campaign.

Throw in the other top forwards - O'Donoghue and Bahntge - and it makes for a solid top few lines when it comes to scoring ability. Jones (7 goals, 19 assists) and Shiplo (4 goals, 10 assists) represent some offensive ability from the blue line as well.  If the Lakers find a way to spread the scoring out a bit more, they could be a dangerous squad overall, but coming into the season opponents certainly have their targets to shut down.

Defensively, the Lakers' top goaltender from last year has graduated, but Tibbett, who saw action against the Engineers in the second game last season, got a solid amount of work in last season as the top backup. Gettinger is the team's top defensive defenseman and Jones is competent on both sides of the puck, but Mercyhurst could well have problems stopping RPI's balanced attack.

The Mercyhurst series last year represented something of a turnaround moment for the Engineers - off a road league weekend at Dartmouth and Harvard in which RPI were shutout twice while playing some dreadful hockey, the Engineers got things going with a sweep of the Lakers at home, 4-2 and 4-1, the start of a run that saw the 'Tute go 16-7-3 through the end of the regular season.

This series represents RPI's first ever trip to Erie after having hosted Mercyhurst eight times in Troy since the turn of the millennium. It represents something of an advancement for the Lakers to be drawing a home series against the Engineers, but they've certainly earned it by being one of the more quality programs in their conference for quite some time. RPI should be favored in this series, but Mercyhurst is a team they can't afford to sleep on, especially now that they're playing them on the road, since they have the capacity to strike well from their top lines.

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