College Hockey:
Brace nets hat trick as Robert Morris rallies to beat AIC

— For 40 minutes, the American International Yellow Jackets had the Robert Morris Colonials right where they wanted them, down two goals heading into the final period. Then the flood gates opened. The Colonials managed four goals over the final 20 minutes and pulled off a huge 5-3 win in the first game of their first round playoff matchup.

“For 40 minutes, we did a lot of good things, but it just got away from us in the third tonight.” Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright said.

From the drop of the puck, American International brought the intensity on every shift and clearly looked like the stronger team. The Yellow Jackets struck first just seven seconds into the game’s first power play when leading scorer Adam Pleskach buried his shot from the top of the left circle past starting Colonials netminder Brooks Ostergard. It was Pleskach’s 16th tally of the season, with assists coming from Jeff Ceccacci and Nielsson Arcibal.

The goal seemed to momentarily wake up the Colonials, who then proceeded to draw their first power play at 16:01 when Yellow Jackets defender Whitney Olsen was sent off for hooking. Just a scant few seconds later, Colonials defenseman Tyson Wilson sent a rocket past Yellow Jackets’ starting goaltender Ben Meisner to even the score.

The Yellow Jackets then went back to work, creating turnovers, winning loose puck battles, and carrying the bulk of the play in the Colonials end. At the 9:11 mark of the second period, American International forward Nathan Sliwinski scored a highlight-reel goal when he won a puck in the Colonials end and skated through the defense en route to beating Ostergard.

The momentum swung even more in the Yellow Jackets’ favor less than two minutes later when forward Mike Penny put his team up by two with a power-play goal, putting a rebound in the back of the net, with assists going to Nick Sandor and Pleskach. For the rest of the second frame, the Jackets kept putting the pressure to the Colonials as Robert Morris slowly started getting to the type of game they wanted to play. The Colonials found a way to start generating consistent scoring chances in the last five minutes of the second, but Meisner kept his team ahead with several point blank saves.

With the Colonials down two goals heading into the final stanza, the Yellow Jackets kept applying pressure in attempts to procure the knockout punch necessary to keep Robert Morris from mounting a comeback. However, Colonials forward Adam Brace and his teammates had other ideas. Brace scored the game’s next two goals, the first at 5:40 of the period and the second at 10:59 on a Colonials power play when he placed a perfect shot from just inside the blue line that struck the crossbar and went behind Meisner.

With the game tied, the Colonials found their best efforts of the night as shift after shift seemed to produce one great scoring chance after another. The game had changed completely, and the Yellow Jackets were now finding themselves being dominated in their own end. The work paid off at 14:06 when Colonials captain Trevor Lewis buried a pass from behind the net from Cody Crichton to give Robert Morris its first lead of the night.

The Yellow Jackets then mounted some offense with a sense of desperation in an attempt to tie the game. However, while in the Colonials end, a misplaced shot turned into instant Colonials offense in the neutral zone as Robert Morris found themselves on a three-on-one that they executed to perfection. Brace finished the tic-tac-toe passing play with his tap-in at the side of the net. The final goal of the night seemed to put a dagger into the Yellow Jackets effort, as they found themselves not able to muster another serious charge at Ostergard the rest of the way.

“Tonight was very disappointing,” said Wright. “You have to give Robert Morris credit for a really gutsy comeback. It’s all about how we can rebound at this point. We need to come out tomorrow as determined as ever.”

Colonials coach Derek Schooley seemed disappointed with his team’s early efforts, but overall seemed pleased with their effort coming back.

“I think that might be our worst game in the last month; that wasn’t how we wanted to come out in the playoffs,” he said. “The one thing I was really proud of was that when we got the lead, we kept playing in their end. We have to come out much better tomorrow.”

The win gave the Colonials the early 1-0 lead in the first round best-of-three Atlantic Hockey playoffs. The teams square off for game two Saturday night at the Island Sports Center.

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