BUFFALO, N.Y. — Winless in their previous six contests, sufferers of both blowouts (outscored 33-17 since Nov. 1) and snow-outs (a Dec. 11 game at Niagara was postponed by a winter storm), Robert Morris straggled into the Buffalo State Ice Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. to face a dangerous Canisius team coming off a 9-3 thrashing of Bentley.
The Colonials promptly fell behind, 4-1, by the end of the first period.
But then — suddenly, and perhaps only for one night — their luck changed.
Sophomore winger Nick Chiavetta scored a fluke short-handed goal directly off a faceoff at the 2:35 mark of the second period, and Robert Morris, a team that had not scored five goals in one game in over a month, or even five goals combined in its last three games, battled back to tie the Golden Griffins, 5-5, in this non-conference matchup.
“It was time to stop talking about what we are, and who we are, and go out and act,” said Colonials’ coach Derek Schooley, whose team enters its winter break with a 3-10-3 record. “I thought we did a pretty good job of coming back, and although it was only a tie, (it’s) something to build on for the second half. And you know, even though it’s not a win, it does kind of make you feel good about coming back.”
After junior winger Scott Kobialko finished a two-on-one break with Nathan Longpre to give Robert Morris a 1-0 lead just 47 seconds into the first period, Canisius responded by scoring four consecutive goals. Colonials’ starting goaltender Brooks Ostergaard was pulled in favor of rookie netminder Eric Levine after allowing tallies to Griffs’ defensemen Chris Forsman and Carl Hudson and fourth-line center Matt Zuke in a three-minute stretch midway through the opening period.
Hudson’s laser from just beneath from the left circle gave the senior blueliner sole possession of two school records: career power play goals (23) and most consecutive games with a point by a defender (seven).
Junior winger Vincent Scarsella completed the Canisius outburst with a power-play tip-in at the right post with 3:22 on the clock before the first intermission, capping a beautiful string of passes in the Colonials’ zone.
The tide, however, turned in the second frame. Chiavetta slapped a faceoff draw past Griffs’ goaltender Andrew Loewen for a short-handed tally — the second for Robert Morris this season — and center Chris Kushneriuk, who entered the game as the Colonials’ leading scorer, hammered home a rebound with the man advantage to cut the lead to 4-3 with over 13 minutes remaining in the second period.
A steady progression of penalties kept play stilted until freshman forward Preston Shupe gave Canisius what appeared to be some breathing room with the Griffs’ third power-play goal of the game at 9:05 of the third period, extending the lead to 5-3. Robert Morris entered the game struggling with the penalty kill, allowing 18 goals in 72 opportunities, and Canisius cashed in three of their 10 chances on Tuesday.
However, the Colonials would not be denied. Sophomore winger Furman South took advantage of a five-on-three situation at 15:13 of the third period, shaving the score to 5-4, and Longpre — who now leads the team with 18 points — burst around Griffs’ defenseman Ben Parker near the left blue line before cutting through the slot and snapping a point-blank shot over Loewen to tie the score at five with less than four minutes in the game.
The draw was another head-scratcher for a Canisius unit with an 8-9-2 record that boasts two of the top 30 scorers in the nation in Cory Conacher and Vince Scarsella, recorded the seventh-longest shutout streak in NCAA history in earlier in the season, yet seems incapable of consistent play on both ends of the ice.
“We play good team offense,” said coach Dave Smith, whose Griffs host Colgate on Sunday. “But we don’t play good team defense consistently, and you can almost see it. There’s moments when we lock it down, and then we start running and gunning a little bit. So, we need to address the team-first mentality.”
The come-from-behind tie offers Robert Morris a dose of positivity before opening a brutal second-half schedule with home matchups against Lake Superior State, top-ranked Miami (Ohio), and CHA rivals Alabama-Huntsville before traveling to visit Colgate and Bemidji State.
“We have to stop talking about where we’re at and get better,” Schooley said, “Talk is cheap. We think we’re a good team — we talk, we pretend like we’re a good team, but good teams win hockey games, and we haven’t been doing that. We need to stop talking about it. We can be a good hockey team if we just go out and do it.”