DETROIT — Robert Morris swept Air Force during the regular season and continued the trend with a 4-3 win Friday in a CHA quarterfinal at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
But it wasn’t easy.
The Colonials came back from a 3-0 deficit, and without forward Sean Berkstresser, who was tossed 11 seconds in after a checking from behind major.
“We had the gun to their heads, but couldn’t pull the trigger,” Air Force head coach Frank Serratore said. “The bottom line is that we failed again. We had the early break with a five-minute major and they got the chances. We failed on both ends.”
Tom Biondich only scored three goals during the regular season, but his first of the playoffs at 15:51 of the third period gave the Colonials a 4-3 lead and they held on for the victory.
Chris Kaufman sent a shot in on Air Force goalie Peter Foster and the juicy rebound came out to the hash marks where Biondich was waiting with a one-timer that beat Foster top shelf glove side.
“We’ve been through so much this season,” RMU head coach Derek Schooley said. “Maybe it was nerves that caused us to come out and look the way we did, but the guys were fired up. There was never a feeling we were going to lose this game.”
Air Force co-captain Brooks Turnquist gave the Falcons an early 1-0 lead on a power play at 9:27. Andrew Ramsey passed across to Turnquist, whose blast from the top of the left circle looked to hit something on the way in and eluded RMU goaltender Christian Boucher.
Turnquist’s goal came just minutes after Robert Morris killed off Berkstresser’s major. Foster was sharp in the kill in denying Jace Buzek on two separate occasions.
With just 1:44 remaining in the period, Josh Print gave Air Force a two-goal cushion. Josh Schaffer carried into the Colonials’ zone on a mini break and dished off to Print, who went high glove on Boucher.
Air Force outshot RMU in the opening period, 14-7.
Just after the Colonials returned to full strength early in the second, Air Force opened up a 3-0 lead when Theo Zacour came out from a scrum in the corner and forced a shot past Boucher from in tight on an awkward angle at 1:50.
Robert Morris co-captain Kurt Wright brought RMU to within two when his one-timer beat Foster on a two-man advantage at 5:54. Jace Buzek fed Logan Bittle down low, and Bittle hit Wright in the slot for the quick wrister.
“Once we got that goal, the momentum started to come for us,” Boucher said. “We seem to always come out slow and pick it up in the second half of the game. If we’re losing and don’t get that first goal, we get down and tonight that didn’t happen.”
Bittle made it a one-goal game at 16:28 when he tapped in a loose puck. Foster made the initial save on David Boguslawski’s shot, but the puck stayed in the crease and no one but Bittle saw it.
Robert Morris came all the way back to tie the game at 14:49 of the third period. Aaron Clarke, with a defender on his back, attempted a wraparound, but the puck went across the crease untouched and Bittle roofed a shot over a sliding Foster.
“Clarke made a nice play behind the net,” said Bittle. “The puck took a nice bounce off one of their defensemen and it came right to me. Neither of my goals had anything to do with hard work, but hey, it’s the tournament and I’ll take ‘em how I can get ‘em.”
“It’s like Coach was saying that we needed to get one in the third or make a big stop and we didn’t do any of that,” said Foster. “This team has been our kryptonite all season and tonight was the glass dagger.”
Foster finished with 15 saves while Boucher stopped 27.
“We didn’t get it done, that’s all I can say and all I know right now” said Turnquist after his final collegiate game. “You play this game for 20 years and now what? It hasn’t really set in; I’m still in shock. I guess that’s why this game is sixty minutes and not the first one to three, you know?”
Robert Morris plays Niagara, the tournament No. 1 seed, tomorrow at 3:35 p.m. in the first semifinal. Bemidji State awaits the winner of Wayne State and Alabama-Huntsville.
“We’ll celebrate this win for 15 minutes,” said Schooley. “And hopefully tomorrow we can do it again.”