October 29, 2013

From NYHJ: Clarkson's sniper sisters

By Phil Shore

Forwards Cayley (left) and Carly Mercer are taking to the ice together for a Golden Knights' team with big goals. (Photo: Clarkson Athletics)

Last year, the Clarkson women’s hockey team won a school-record 28 games and reached the NCAA tournament. Their captain, Carly Mercer, led the team with 41 points and had six game-winning scores.

She is a senior this year. Golden Knights co-head coach Shannon Desrosiers is hoping the team can duplicate and better last year’s success. But, looking ahead, who could step into Mercer’s skates next year?

Why, another Mercer, of course.

The Golden Knights have a pair of extremely talented sisters on their roster this season: senior Carly Mercer and sophomore Cayley Mercer.

“They look very much the same so it’s like twins buzzing around. They do have very similar styles. They’re both very talented offensively,” Desrosiers said. “Carly has been here longer so she’s more aware defensively, but they are both naturally gifted scorers and they are good playmakers with their linemen. You think of them and you think of them in the offensive zone.”

What will make this season special for the two is that they will finally be able to play at Clarkson together, instead of just being at Clarkson together.

Last year, Cayley suffered a full ACL tear in her right knee the summer before heading to Clarkson and was forced to sit the entire season.

Both Mercer sisters and Desrosiers admit they were disappointed to not have Cayley play, but Cayley said her sister helped her get through a tough time on the bench.

“It was really difficult but the best thing was my sister being there reminding me that if I worked hard we’d get to play together the next year,” she said. “I’ve been anticipating this season for a while.”

Growing up, Carly, Cayley and their younger brother, Cullen — who signed with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League over the summer — learned to play hockey together. They had a personal skating coach and their dad came up with the idea to have a synthetic ice surface put in the basement, with walls the same material as the boards of a rink.

Like any siblings that are close, the Mercer girls admit to being very competitive with each other. There were fights and arguments, but their sibling rivalry also pushed them to improve.

“It was a lot of fun most of the time but it was also super-competitive,” Carly said. “Both of us love to win and a lot of our practice sessions ended with one of us being upset with the other, and at the end of the day it made both of us better.

“We argued a lot. We knew how to push each other’s buttons. We were competitive in everything else,” she added. “But we had each other’s backs. We knew if we needed anything we could ask each other first.”

The two played together briefly at in high school, although Cayley had suffered a torn ACL in her left knee, minimizing their time playing together.

Desrosiers recruited Carly first in what the coach said was a pivotal recruiting class. She was the team’s Rookie of the Year after compiling 24 points her freshman season and followed that up with 40- and 41-point seasons the next two years.

Desrosiers said she didn’t use Carly to help recruit her sister, but that she thinks it helped with Cayley’s decision.

“We just kind of treated Cayley like she was an individual. We didn’t mention her sister because we didn’t want her to feel like she was just Carly’s sister,” she said. “I know they’re a close family. I think that helped us get (her).”

They have shown that they are close, but Cayley’s decision still surprised her sister, partially because of their rivalry growing up.

“I thought she’d choose a different school so that she could go against me and try to beat me,” Carly said.

Cayley said, however, that teaming with her sister had a big impact on her decision.

“I’m hoping we’ll bring a lot of chemistry,” Cayley said. “The communication is definitely there. We know how to work through things. Since we do have similar styles we’ll be able to complement each other and, hopefully, we’ll be able to contribute to the offense and help our team together.”

The cliché in sports is the team being like a family. The Mercer sisters on the same team add to the family atmosphere at Clarkson, which is coached by Desrosiers and her husband, Matt.

“It’s all about family supporting each other and wanting each other to do well,” Desrosiers said. “Especially with freshmen coming in, they know they’re supported.”

The immediate focus for the girls is playing for Clarkson this season and going even further than the team did last season. The Golden Knights went 28-10, their best record ever, and reached the NCAA tournament for the second time.

They were picked by ECAC Hockey coaches to finish first in the league in a preseason poll. In addition to the Mercers, they feature standouts like leading scorer Jamie Lee Rattray (22-30-52) and Erica Howe (1.73 GAA, .931 save percentage), a two-time Goalie of the Year in ECAC Hockey.

But just like when Cayley surprised her sister by choosing to play at Clarkson, who knows what the future will hold for these sisters. Both have played for Canada’s Under-18 teams and could become teammates again on an even bigger stage.

“It’s always been one of both our goals. We’ve always dreamed big. Now that we’ve come this far, we both want that. We push each other,” Cayley said about playing for Team Canada in the future. “To have the opportunity to play for the national team and to do it with my sister by my side would be an honor, and it would be fun.”

But since the girls have waited so long to play at Clarkson together, there’s no sense in rushing time and thinking about the future.

It’s Carly’s final season and as captain she must continue her business-like approach to the sport to help keep the entire Clarkson team moving in the right direction. That being said, she also said she’s lucky to get to share this final season with her sister.

“Having my sister and my best friend alongside me in my final year means a lot,” she said. “There’s no one I’d rather practice or play, win or lose with. I’m really proud of her, and I think there are still such great things ahead of her.”