Men's hockey atop the Atlantic hockey standings

Jill Barrile photo: Freshman Nardo Nagtzaam earned AHA co-rookie of the week after helping the Lakers beat AIT 7-2. Nagtzaam had one goal and two assists in the game. Jill Barrile photo: Freshman Nardo Nagtzaam earned AHA co-rookie of the week after helping the Lakers beat AIT 7-2. Nagtzaam had one goal and two assists in the game. Traditionally, when a team wins one game but loses another it’s presumed they played better in the game they won.

However, that is not the case for the Mercyhurst men’s hockey team following a weekend split with American International.

“I believe we played better Friday, but we just didn’t get the right bounces of the puck,” Coach Rick Gotkin said. “We played well Saturday, but Friday their goalie was outstanding.”

The Lakers were unable to get by the AIT goaltender, who stopped 38 of 40 shots Friday night in a 3-2 defeat. Saturday was a different story as the Lakers dismantled two AIT goalies who only managed to stop 44 of 51 shots in a 7-2 Laker win.

With the weekend split, the Lakers maintained their position atop the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) standings with 22 points. Each game matters more when only eight points separates the top team and the ninth team.

“We just take it one game at a time, especially in such a competitive conference,” Gotkin said.

As the Lakers head down the home stretch of their schedule, they won’t be home often. The team will travel for nine of their remaining 12 games. This includes trips to RIT and Air Force, who currently sit in second and third place respectively.

“We just try to keep the same routine when we travel,” Gotkin said. “We have the same routine Thursday before we leave and we get back Sunday around 7 a.m.”

The Lakers have a routine on the ice as well.

“We try to control the puck and limit the amount of risks we take,” Gotkin said. “We play road hockey.”

Even though the Lakers are going on the road, they are taking a large amount of firepower with them.

Currently the Lakers are the only team in the nation with 11 different skaters in double digits in scoring. The next closest team is No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth.

“We have great depth and that is something we take great pride in as a program,” Gotkin said.

That depth will be critical in not running out of gas in the AHA play-offs by overworking a select few skaters.

“We don’t really have a No. 1 line, we rely on 25 guys to win each night,” Gotkin said. “We get production from everywhere, and we trust each guy, and it’s a great feeling.”

The Lakers are currently led by an outstanding group of freshmen in Daniel Bahntge, Nardo Nagtzaam and Chris Bodo who are three of the top four scorers. Freshmen are actually four of the top six scorers, with senior Derek Elliot and junior Paul Chiasson as the other two.

“With depth, we don’t have to play guys to death,” Gotkin said. “We hope to have everyone fresh for the playoffs.”

Even though the Lakers are in a good position in the AHA, they aren’t looking past anyone.

“Our most important game is Friday against Holy Cross, not RIT and not Air Force,” Gotkin said.

The Lakers’ success has been in large part due to the play of senior goaltender Max Strang.

“Max really went out and grabbed the reins to start the season, and he never looked back,” Gotkin said.

With the strong play of Strang and the host of freshmen contributing, the Lakers will be a tough matchup for any team in the AHA. But the regular season crown isn’t the most important goal.

“We know that only the winner of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs is going to the NCAA tournament,” Gotkin said.

The Lakers look to continue on that path with a two-game tilt at Holy Cross Friday and Saturday. The team doesn’t play another game at the Mercyhurst Ice Center until hosting Niagara Feb. 3.