Springfield, MA – American International College pulled away from the Mercyhurst Lakers in a Saturday afternoon matinee at the MassMutual Center on the strength of three two-goal performances. Joel Kocur, Janis Jaks, and Luka Maver each scored twice while Jared Pike added one for the Yellow Jackets in a 7-4 win. Geoff Kitt scored two as well for the Lakers in the losing effort.
Kocur’s first goal of the game came just 1:49 in when he knocked a loose puck past Laker goalie Garrett Metcalf (40 saves) for the 1-0 Yellow Jacket lead. Pike and Austen Long were credited with the assists on the goal.
AIC’s Oskar Stromberg was called for Interference at 5:59 giving the visiting Lakers the games first power play opportunity. AIC’s penalty kill kept Mercyhurst from establishing zone pressure.
Kocur’s second goal came at 16:26 when he beat Metcalf high after being left alone in front of the Laker goalie. Long and Maver assisted on the goal.
The Yellow Jackets outshot the Lakers 14-5 for the period while the Lakers won the face-off battle 10-9.
Mercyhurst wasted little time getting back into the game in the second when Kitt wristed a Paul Maust pass past Stefano Durante (20 saves) cutting the AIC lead to 2-1.
Mercyhurst sophomore defenseman Dalton Hunter was whistled for Holding at 3:51 giving AIC their first crack at the power play. The Yellow Jackets were unable to garner much offense with the man advantage.
Shortly after the power play expired AIC’s Pike banged home a rebound of Kocur bid from the right side of goal. The goal for Pike was his seventh of the year, putting AIC up 3-1. Kocur and Long assisted.
Mercyhurst pushed back midway thru the period as they controlled play in the AIC zone, but a Boarding call on Laker forward Ethan Johnson at 14:06 put the Yellow Jackets back on the man advantage. AIC had good pressure but was unable to beat Metcalf.
Defenseman Jaks made it 4-1 when his slapshot from the blue line beat Metcalf at 16:44. The goal was assisted by Jeff Baum and Long. The assist for Long was his fourth of the game.
Mercyhurst didn’t quit as Kitt struck again for his second goal of the period. Kitt stripped an AIC defender at the hashmark, then beat Durante with a snapshot at 17:33.
The Yellow Jackets outshot the Lakers 15-9 while Mercyhurst continued to win the face-off battle 14-7.
The third period seen AIC build on their lead at 5:22 when Jaks wrist shot from the top of the left circle found it’s way past Metcalf. Kocur and Austin Albrecht assisted. Jaks second goal of the game was his fifth of the season.
At 9:19 Maver’s second made it 6-2 when he redirected a Nicolas Luka shot past Metcalf.
Mercyhurst wasn’t done yet. Justin Cmunt sniped a snapshot from the top of the right circle making it 6-3 at 15:11.
Just thirty-eight seconds later the Lakers struck again. Junior captain Quinn Winchers wristed the puck through Durante’s five-hole cutting the Yellow Jackets lead to 6-4.
Lakers forward Maust took an Elbowing Five-Minute Major at 16:07 giving AIC the five minute power play to close out the game.
Maver’s second of the game, at 18:35, closed the door for good on this one. The Yellow Jackets hung on for the 7-4 victory to improve their Atlantic Hockey record to 15-5-1-0 and keep pace with # 20 Sacred Heart for first place. The loss for Mercyhurst dropped their record to 3-16-1-0 for sole possession of last place.
“We made it a point today that we were going to go all out,” said freshman Long. “We made sure every shift we made sure we were going hard.”
“I felt like our line (with Pike and Kocur) was pretty fast all throughout the game, first period especially,” said Long.
The Minneapolis, MN native had a big weekend against the Lakers, four assists on Saturday while also notching the game-winning goal with just under four minutes left on Friday for a 4-3 win.
“I’ve been putting my stick in the garbage can,” said Long of his recent success. “I don’t know, trying to get garbage goals, rebounds, or pucks that are laying there in front. Every time I get a wide open shot it doesn’t seem to be going in so I figured garbage goals are the way to go. I started sticking my stick in there.”
Senior captain Kocur had two goals and two assists on the day to keep pace with line-mate Long.
“I’m playing with two players who win so many battles, that compete so hard that when you’re playing with them pucks are going to be laying around,” said Kocur. “I was kind of in the right spot for the first two (goals).”
“I loved our start. It was something that we had a really big focus on,” said fourth-year coach Eric Lang. “Irrelevant of the opponent we have to have respect for everybody in this league. We learned (Friday) that’s a good hockey team. They’re (Mercyhurst) young, they’re hungry but I liked our response. We were hard on pucks, got pucks in behind their defense which was a big focus of ours. It helps to get that first goal.”
Lang praised the play of Long and his line-mates for their role in the victory and the teams overall success this season.
“He is like a high dose of vitamin C for our hockey program,” said Lang of Long. “He doesn’t say a whole lot, he just plays really hard. You could play that kid with anybody in our lineup and he is going to dig pucks out, he’s going to find guys, he always makes the right play. He’s responsible and he’s tough, he’s an AIC hockey player. I’m happy to see him get points. That line was brilliant today.”
“We can get Kocur, Long, and Jared Pike, more of a checking role type line,” said Lang. “We can throw them over (the boards) and get the type of production they got today.”
Mercyhurst has a home and home series this coming Friday and Saturday against Niagara. The Lakers are at Dwyer Arena in Niagara, NY for Friday’s game and then host the Purple Eagles at Mercyhurst Ice Center in Erie, PA on Saturday. Both games are at 7:05 pm EST.
The Yellow Jackets meanwhile are off until Tuesday, February 11 when they host Sacred Heart at the MassMutual Center. Puck drop for the battle for first place starts at 7:05 pm EST.