Former foes now teammates and friends

by Tim Bugaile || AHL On The Beat Archive

April 11, 2009. A day that Lake Erie Monsters head coach David Quinn and forwards Justin Mercier and Brandon Yip will never forget.

With just a minute left in the NCAA national championship game, Mercier’s Miami (OH) University Redhawks held a 3-1 lead over Boston University and were on the verge of winning a national title for the first time in Miami’s history in any sport.

Next to Mercier, on the opposing bench, were Quinn and Yip. At that time, Quinn was BU’s associate head coach and Yip was one of Quinn’s top forwards.

With 59.5 seconds left in regulation and Avalanche goaltending prospect Kieran Millan on the bench in favor for an extra attacker, BU cut the Miami lead in half when Zach Cohen found the back of the net.

Seventeen. The number of seconds Miami was away from winning a title. But the script would be rewritten when Millan was pulled again for an extra attacker and Nick Bonino scored to tie the game at the 19:43 mark of the third.

Then, 11:47 into the sudden-death frame, Colby Cohen, Colorado’s second-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, netted the championship-winning tally, giving Boston their fifth national title.

“I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think about it,” said Mercier. “But it helped us, too. Sure, we lost that game, but it’s something you can’t dwell on. I have a lot of friends still there who learned from the experience, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I saw them in the Frozen Four this year.”

While Mercier’s final college game ended in heartbreak, Quinn and Yip couldn’t have asked for a better ending to their collegiate careers.

“It was absolutely the highlight of my career so far,” said Yip. “It was the biggest game of my life, and I had a blast being a part of it.”

Said Quinn, “I’d be hard pressed to find a better way to finish my career at BU the way we did.”

Although the game was played almost seven months ago, it doesn’t mean Quinn and Yip haven’t let Mercier forget the outcome.

“I was nice to him at first, but I’m sure I’ve said a few things to him,” said Yip, who now lives with Mercier and roomed with the former Redhawk for the past two years at Colorado’s development camp. “But Quinny gives it harder to him than I do,”

“Has Justin recovered yet?” joked Quinn. “I absolutely make sure to touch on the championship game at least once a week with him. A zing here, a zing there.”

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In an odd twist of fate, Mercier almost donned the Terriers sweater with his coach and teammate.

“I recruited Justin in the fall of 2004 and we were thinking about bringing him to BU,” said Quinn. “I knew what he brought to the table. He’s a good player.”

Although Mercier watched a few years later as Quinn and Yip carried around the national championship trophy, the native or Erie, Pa., wouldn’t change a thing.

“I visited a lot of schools, and I was always told there would be the one that just felt right,” said Mercier. “When I toured Miami, it felt right, and I knew it was the right one.”

Now on the same team, the former rivals have, aside from Quinn’s weekly ribbing, gotten past last season’s title game. In fact, Mercier was ecstatic when he got the news Quinn was hired to be the Monsters coach, and when Quinn and Yip found out Mercier would be on Lake Erie’s roster, they too were satisfied at the thought of playing with Mercier.

“A lot of people called me crazy for being really excited when I heard Quinn was going to be my coach,” said Mercier. “He’s a college guy, and he knows the transition from college to the pros. He also recruited me and knows what I can bring to the table.”

“I was excited when I saw Justin was going to be on my roster,” said Quinn. “He has a ton of speed, he’s physical and he’s strong on his skates.”

Like Quinn, Yip, who has been sidelined with an injury this season, is excited that he’ll be playing with instead of against Mercier this season.

“He’s a hard worker, he’s always banging out there in practice and games, and in the past he’s been able to find the net,” said Yip.

“Brandon’s a great kid,” said Mercier. “We get along so well that we decided to be roommates. He’s a good teammate but a better friend.”

With their college careers in the past, the trio now focuses on the present and the future in their new surroundings.

“It’s been life changing and exciting, becoming a pro,” said Yip. “It’s been great being around the rink and getting to know the guys; the coaches and training staff have made it an easy transition.”

“It was always my goal to play pro hockey,” said Mercier. “It was great signing my first pro contract. I knew I was going to have to pay my dues, and I was prepared, before the season, to play hockey in Cleveland.”

“All the experience I’ve gotten has helped prepare me for this,” said Quinn. “Coaching pro hockey has created a different path for me. My ultimate goal is to coach in the NHL.”

As it was some seven months ago, Quinn and Yip will be sharing the same sheet of ice as player and coach. Only this time, they’ll be taking on the opposition with Mercier instead of against him.