The Robert Morris Colonials first tasted what it felt like to actually win a College Hockey Showcase for the first time last season. They were hungry for more of the same in the game’s fifth annual edition tonight, defeating the visiting Air Force Falcons 3-2.
The 3,693 fans in attendance were treated to a hotly-contested battle between two exceptionally fast teams. The chances came one after another, and the strong performances by netminders Brooks Ostergard (Robert Morris) and Jason Torf (Air Force) showcased the talent between the pipes, keeping the scoring minimal for such a fast, flowing game.
Air Force took the play to the Colonials in the first period, cycling the puck down low in the Robert Morris end and forcing the Colonials into a number of turnovers in neutral ice. The early Falcons pressure was rewarded when defenseman Mike Walsh beat Ostergard cleanly with a low, rising shot from the right circle at the 6:09 mark with assists to Jacques Lamoureux and Derrick Burnett. The play was made possible by the combination of a Colonials turnover, and a pinpoint-perfect pass from Lamoureux coming from behind the Colonials net.
Lamoureux wasn’t finished dishing out assists just yet though. At 18:28 of the first, the highly touted forward helped finish a hard-working cycle deep in the Colonials end, putting a hard shot on net on which Ostergard made the initial save, but the rebound came right to Falcons forward George Michalke, who buried it past a helpless Ostergard, doubling the Air Force lead.
Then with the period winding down, the Colonials threw the kitchen sink at Jason Torf during a furious final second scrum in front of the Falcons net and were able to cut their deficit in half at the 19:59 mark when Trevor Lewis punched home a loose puck in the crease. The goal came as a blessing for the Colonials, who were outplayed by the Falcons for most of the opening frame, but were right back in the contest following the last-second heroics.
“They came out and took it to us right off the bat.” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “I don’t think we played our ‘A’ game; we were sloppy at times, but at the end of the day, we found a way to fight our way through it.”
The emotional lift the Colonials received from the last-second goal was evident in the way the team opened the second, but Torf was up to the challenge. Robert Morris generated 16 shots and numerous quality scoring chances which were snuffed by the freshman goaltender, who used a quick glove and solid positioning to keep the Colonials off the board, including a terrific glove save on Colonials forward Zach Hervato, who worked a two-on-one to perfection at the 3:29 mark.
Robert Morris captain Chris Kusneriuk had been a physical presence all night long, finishing checks left and right. He made another significant contribution to his teams’ effort at 17:30 of the second when he beat Torf during a power play just moments after an Air Force penalty killer missed an opportunity to send the puck the length of the ice but failed to do so. Assists went to defenseman Denny Urban and forward Nathan Longpre, which was Longpre’s 100th career point.
With the stage set for a fantastic finish, the teams traded chances for most of the third period, with both goalies holding firm.
Longpre gave the home side a good reason to get out of their seats with a strong individual effort. Taking a puck from neutral ice, the forward moved in all alone on the breakaway and got the puck past Torf at 17:39.
The Falcons pulled Torf with over a minute to play, and kept sustained pressure on Ostergard, but were unable to equalize. The win moved the Colonials record to 4-0 for the first time in school history and dropped Air Force to 0-3 on the season. The Falcons outshot Robert Morris 38-33 for the night, but were unable to capitalize on four power play chances. Even though Air Force coach Frank Serratore didn’t like the outcome, he had to confess that it was a very entertaining contest tonight.
“I think it was an even, well-played game. Great players seem to show up at the most important times and Longpre won that footrace and scored that dynamic goal. After we scored that second goal, they (Robert Morris) played with a sense of determination. I thought it was a terrific game. We just had to find a way to get that third goal and we didn’t.”