Mercyhurst University clinched the Atlantic Hockey Association regular season championship with a 4-2 win at Niagara on Saturday night. The Lakers won two regular season crowns in the defunct Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but had never claimed this title in the AHA.
Rick Gotkin's 26th season behind the bench in Erie has been a superb one from start to finish as Mercyhurst holds a 18-12-6 overall record and is 16-4-5 within the league.
Nardo Nagtzaam and Ryan Misiak scored goals in the early parts of the first and second period, respectively, to stake the Lakers to a 2-0 lead.
Niagara tied the score midway through the third period, but Mercyhurst responded with two goals in the final three minutes of the game. Kyle Dutra scored the game-winner with 2:07 to go and Nagtzaam added his second of the game and ninth of the season into an empty net.
Mercyhurst was outshot 40-27, but junior goaltender Jimmy Sarjeant came up with numerous big saves. The native is 16-4-5 with a 2.33 goals against average and .934 save percentage on the season.
The Lakers took three of four points on the weekend, but were helped by the struggles of the teams chasing them. Bentley was shockingly swept by Sacred Heart while UConn and Air Force each could only salvage splits against inferior opponents.
Mercyhurst is averaging 3.47 goals per game, sixth most in the nation, and boasts a deep roster. Led by Matthew Zay's 16 goals, the Lakers have five players who have hit double digits and two more with nine each.
The Lakers won three league postseason crowns in 2001, 2003 and 2005, earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but never made it past the first round. Gotkin holds a record of 471-335-71 in over a quarter of a century at the school.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.