Women’s hockey splits with RMU, still at No. 2

Marco Cicchino, Staff Writer

For the second straight weekend, a visiting opponent came to the Mercyhurst Ice Center with one goal in mind: to prevent 14th-ranked Mercyhurst from injecting volatility into a College Hockey America that has remained quite static in its top half.

And once again, a weekend split prevented the Lakers from taking over the conference’s sole top spot.

But the hosts were able to remain within reach of their first regular-season title since 2016, withstanding a strong second-period from 9th-ranked Robert Morris on Feb. 17 and taking a 20-save shutout from Laker Kennedy Blair the previous night to remain two points behind the Colonials heading into the season’s final weekend.

In game one, the Lakers were even in the conference race with Blair recording her third shutout of the season.

Another scoreless first-period — and the Colonials (18-7-4, 12-3-3) not allowing a shot on goal for the first 10½ minutes — set up a rush 7:11 into the second after Welsh was booked for tripping.

This time, Maggie Knott immediately won the draw, and after Blair set up Samantha Fieseler to start a rush down the middle, Knott found her 11th of the season on a bottom-corner shot 27 seconds later for the Lakers.

The tally also snapped a remarkable shutout streak for the Colonials’ Elijah Milne-Price, breaking the program record set by now-assistant Colonial coach Brianne McLaughlin in the team’s inaugural 2005-06 campaign; against Lindenwood, she became the third Colonial to post consecutive shutouts, the first to pull the feat in nearly 2.5 years.

But she fell out of the groove and allowed 12 shots that period, and then allowed a second power-play strike at 9:04 of the third.

After the Colonials’ Lexi Templeman was booked for tripping at 8:47, the Lakers’ Knott caught a deflection from Hartwick on the left point for a Fieseler score.

“We just stuck together and … kept our good energy … throughout the team,” Fieseler told WICU after the game on Friday. “We like to move the puck a lot, get shots to the net and … that’s what worked out.”

Meanwhile, a standout performance from Blair was essential in drowning the Colonials into an 0-4 night on the advantage.

Blair’s defense allowed just two shots overall with both coming on a hooking call against Céline Frappier at 16:24 of the third.

Not only were the Colonials outshot 22-21, they managed just 10 shots over the first two periods.

But with a chance to reclaim the conference lead back for themselves, the Colonials’ main scoring weapon, Jaycee Gebhard, found her 11th of the season going five-hole on the Lakers’ Blair (7-7-1, 1.68) just 5:47 into the second frame.

The Colonials’ Gebhard picked up the second of Brooke Hartwick’s shots off of Milne-Price (17-5-4, 1.77), finding her second of the game.

The shot came in a near-exact spot just 14 seconds after Howard’s penalty expired to cap a stretch of two goals in just 5:37.

A staunch Milne-Price stopped 14 shots in that pivotal second period — 10 of them coming from in-between the faceoff circles.

Compounding this was her fellow Colonials’ defense; allowing just seven shots on four penalty-kill opportunities.

The two squads were able to keep up their respective pressures into the third period, but only after Milne-Price made two quick saves after the opening of the frame.

Laker Jennifer MacAskill, playing in her final home game as captain, found Alexa Vasko inside, sending a backhand to Hartwick and scoring just to the right of Milne-Price nearly parallel to the goal line.

Nicole Guagliardo was booked for a hooking call just 55 seconds later, immediately allowing the Colonials’ Maggie LaGue to recover a Howard shot.

LaGue converted her league-leading and career-high 21st of the season from a spot just to the left of her earlier missed shot.

The Lakers responded by keeping the offensive pressure on Milne-Price, and it paid off.

On 11½ minutes of the period, Hartwick found her second of the game from nearly the exact spot of her first tally.

Despite this, Milne-Price needed just one more stop to finish off a 31-save performance while being outshot by an eight-shot margin.

“We’re playing playoff hockey right now and we know every game (is) going to be close, and (Mercyhurst) always gives us a good battle,” commented the Colonials’ Milne-Price after the game. “My (defense) does a great job in clearing lanes for me, and … they just make my life easier. I can count on them to clear rebounds and we just do it together.”

With the worst start in program history long behind them, the Lakers — for the third time this season — split a ranked opponent and nearly pulled off their first such sweep since October 2012 in arguably some of the squad’s best play all season.

Currently, the Lakers are 14-14-4 overall and 11-4-3 in the conference.

Now the task is to secure that title, heading to Henrietta, N.Y. this weekend to play the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers.

Both previous games in the 2017-2018 season resulted in victories for the Lakers (7-2 and 4-0 respectively).