Mercyhurst Rookies Contributing Right Away
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Reporter
College freshmen have a lot to adjust to; being in a new place, being away from home, not to mention classes. Throw hockey into the mix and it’s no surprise many coaches don’t expect their freshmen to carry the team.
But for Rick Gotkin and the Mercyhurst Lakers, that is exactly what’s happened. Through the first half of the season, Gotkin’s 12 freshmen have made quite the impact. Four of the Lakers’ top five point producers are freshmen.
But the freshmen impact was very needed. The Lakers graduated five 20 point scorers from last season. They also saw Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year Taylor Holmstrom transfer to Penn State and Phil Ginand leave for the American Hockey League.
“We knew we were going to need four or five guys to make an impact immediately,” Gotkin said. “And certainly they’ve done that. We needed that and we need to continue to get that.”
Out of the 12 freshmen, nine have played at least 13 games and six have five points or more. Of the Lakers 45 goals this season, 22 have been scored by freshmen, 48.8 percent, which doesn’t surprise Gotkin.
“We knew we were getting some really good players, some hardworking guys, some character guys. We understand that college is a transition for a lot kids from junior hockey and what not. But I’m not surprised,” Gotkin said. "Some guys adjust quicker than others. That’s why we had figured, with 12 freshmen, we’re going to need four or five of those guys to make an impact right immediately and not take months or a year.”
This year’s freshmen class is led by Nardo Nagtzaam, who has 13 points. But he isn’t alone. Chris Bodo and Daniel Bahntge follow close behind with 12 points.
While those three forwards have been producing, the Lakers have also received a surprise on the back end, where Tyler Shiplo has chipped in 11 points (two goals, nine assists).
“We got Tyler very, very late. We knew he had some offensive ability,” Gotkin said. “I am a little bit surprised at this point as how well he has done offensively. He plays on one of our power plays so he gets an opportunity to do some things there.”
But Shiplo isn’t the only freshman defenseman. While only having three points, Grant Gettinger has really helped the team, Gotkin said.
“He’s been very, very good as a defensive defenseman, a stay-at-home defenseman,” Gotkin said.
Nagtzaam, Bodo, Bahntge and Shiplo have made a big impact on the Lakers’ power play, currently tied for first in Atlantic Hockey and fourth in the country at 25.4 percent.
And Shiplo has been one of the Lakers’ biggest weapons. Of his nine assists, eight have come with the man advantage.
“Tyler sees the ice very, very well. He moves the puck. He’s got a great shot,” Gotkin said. “Those are three pretty good combinations for a guy to be on the power play and he’s taken advantage of that.”
Not to be outdone by Shiplo, other freshmen have stepped up on the power play. Bodo is second on the team with three power-play goals, while Bahntge has a goal and four assists on the power play. Nagtzaam has chipped in with a goal and three assists and Ryan Misiak has five power play assists.
The freshmen class could not be succeeding without the help of some upperclassmen. And while there are only four seniors on the roster, Gotkin feels they have made a big impact on the freshmen.
“The four seniors have done a great job of bringing these guys in and helping them get acquainted, adjust, and fit in,” Gotkin said.
They’ve also shown the way on the ice. Derek Elliott leads the team in goals and has yet to commit a penalty this season.
With the season’s second half getting under way, Gotkin is expecting more and wants to see the freshmen get better.
“That’s one thing we talked about specifically with our freshmen. ‘Hey, it’s been a decent start for you, in some cases it’s been a very good start for you, but there’s a lot of hockey left,’” Gotkin said. “We, as a team and those guys individually still have a long way to go.”