For the first time in nine years, just the third time since the College Hockey America’s inception of a women’s division in 2002, the regular-season conference champion will not wear forest green, white and navy blue.
Yet if there is a silver lining, Michael Sisti’s Mercyhurst squad is still in slight contention for a first-round bye in the conference tournament after a hard-fought split at Tennity Ice Pavilion over the weekend.
After Jillian Skinner’s game-winner with 49 seconds left in regulation, the Lakers reached to a much-needed 3-2 win on Saturday afternoon.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Rachael Smith commented, “I think we just have to work like we did today, we just worked like a team…and if we keep doing that in the last four games, we’ll come out with the four wins.”
Smith and the rest of her line capitalized on a cross-checking call against the Orange’s Stephanie Grossi with 1:06 left in regulation, just 54 seconds after she found an equalizer for her team-high 12th of the season.
There was momentum clearly on the side of Paul Flanagan’s Orange after they scored two goals in 51 seconds off Jessica Convery, but Grossi, Allie Munroe and Larissa Martyniuk got entangled with Smith on the end boards to Miller’s left.
After Munroe left the scene, Martyniuk attempted to ward off an incoming Brooke Hartwick, but Grossi sent Smith to the ice on what the Orange thought was a legal hit but had been termed an act of embellishment, sending Grossi to the box and leaving her, Miller and Flanagan livid.
Things would turn from bad to worse for the nine-year head man behind the bench when the Senior Assistant Captain Jillian Skinner deposited a low shot before Miller could react quick enough with her catching glove and left-arm blocker.
“It’s a physical game, and you [need] to be able to stand on your feet, so [I] definitely feel bad about that one on my part,” said Grossi, a junior forward.
The rest of Grossi’s line had been able to beat Jessica Convery just 51 seconds before her embellishment call, as Jessica Sibley turned a faceoff win for Hartwick into her second goal of the campaign.
Convery and the Lakers (11-17-2, 7-8-1) had kept the Orange’s attack in-check for the majority of the contest as the junior and surprise lead goalkeeper came with 2:42 of her second shutout of the campaign.
It had been a one-goal lead for the Lakers from the 5:16 mark of the first, as Nicole Guagliardo beat Miller after catching a feed from Jennifer MacAskill.
After a clean second with 12 shots for the Lakers, Miller navigated the first 11 minutes of the third before Michelle Robillard allowed Hartwick to double Orange’s (11-12-5, 10-4-2) deficit on her team-high 15th of the season with 8:38 left in regulation.
Convery finished with 22 saves, one fewer than Miller, as the Lakers won their third CHA contest in their last four and improved to 11-0-1 when finding the net at least three times in a contest.
The night previous, a confident Miller—as termed by Flanagan—needed just 14 saves and two hours to pitch her sixth shutout of the season, the Orange’s sixth win in the previous seven games.
Combined with Robert Morris’ 4-1 matinée home win over RIT, the loss mathematically eliminated the Lakers from regular-season title contention, but the win the following night allowed them to remain in contention for a first-round bye, seven points back of the Orange with four conference games remaining.
The Lakers return in action on Friday when Lindenwood arrives in Erie for a dual-matinée weekend, a 3 p.m. start on Friday before Senior Day wraps up the Lakers’ home slate at 1 p.m. Saturday.