MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It was kind of hard to believe the goal lights at the Clearview Arena simply didn’t give up and burn out following two periods of action during Saturday night’s Atlantic Hockey first-round playoff matchup featuring the Robert Morris Colonials and the American International Yellow Jackets.
In a bizarre game, one that neither team could be proud of defensively speaking, the Yellow Jackets pulled off an entertaining 7-5 win against the homestanding Colonials, pulling the best-of-three playoff series even at one game apiece.
“We were off from the start,” said RMU coach Derek Schooley. “It was just one of those games that they wanted just a tad more than us tonight. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we have to come back and play tomorrow. It was a different hockey game tonight, not one that we’re used to playing, and we need to figure out what we’re doing sooner rather than later.”
American International wasted almost no time in getting on top of the Colonials as just 42 seconds after the drop of the puck, forward Jon Puskar took a pass from Micheal Penny down the right-wing boards and unleashed a shot that snuck past Colonial goaltender Brooks Ostergard to give the Yellow Jackets the early lead.
Robert Morris remained calm and responded quickly when senior forward Cody Crichton finished off a perfect pass from game one hero Adam Brace at 4:38 to knot the score at one.
And then, they were off to the races.
Following the early exchange of goals, both teams completely opened up the ice and looked to seize control of the game. The lack of defensive presence from both teams contributed to the scoring pace and the goaltending on both sides became suspect.
Colonial forward Zach Hervato gave the Colonials a brief lead at 5:17 when his strong individual effort was rewarded with a shot that beat Yellow Jacket netminder Ben Meisner just inside the near post.
Less than a minute later, Alexander MacMillan got behind the Colonial defense and burned Ostergard from point blank range with his first goal of the year to tie the game back up, finishing the second exchange of tallies between the two sides.
Brace then deposited his fourth goal of the weekend when he lifted a puck that had sailed through the crease over a sprawled Meisner at 14:30 to close out the first-period scoring.
Most people in attendance would have reasonably expected the uncharacteristic, fire wagon-style game both teams displayed to slow down during the second frame, but neither team seemed willing to back down from the pace that had been set.
Yellow Jacket forward Jason Popek tied the score back at three each when he put home a plump rebound from Ostergard back behind him just 2:21 into the period with assists going to Nick Sandor and Matt Cassidy.
The third Yellow Jacket goal chased Ostergard from the net as the Colonials turned to Eric Levine to help spark the Colonial effort.
Less than three minutes later, Sandor put the Jackets back in the lead when he buried a pass from Popek at 4:53.
Colonial forward Cody Wydo then re-tied the game at four each when he intercepted a Yellow Jacket pass just inside the blue line and cleanly beat Meisner with a well-placed wrist shot at 9:23.
With the action fast and furious, it seemed that a critical time of the game was approaching and since two-goal spurts had become routine in this contest, the Yellow Jackets made certain to make their next one count the most.
American International took and then pushed the lead back to two with goals from Penny and defenseman Jeff Ceccacci at 11:40 and 15:52, respectively. Schooley then removed Levine from the pipes and placed Ostergard back in following the fifth Yellow Jacket goal.
The Colonials then cut the lead in half at 17:25 when freshman defenseman Evan Renwick scored his first career goal with a brilliant backhand shot that found its way past Meisner. The late-period goal might have given the Colonials complete faith in their ability to take control of the game once and for all in the third period, but Meisner would refuse to let Robert Morris back into the contest.
The senior goaltender stopped all 21 Colonial shots in the third period, some in spectacular fashion, and Puskar added his second tally of the night at the 9:35 mark of the third to close out the scoring on a goal that bore strong resemblance to his game-opening goal.
“It was an uncharacteristic first two periods for us tonight, [but] we were finally able to stabilize in the third period and Meisner really stepped up for us tonight,” said AIC coach Gary Wright. “Robert Morris generates tremendous speed coming through the neutral zone and we need to make better adjustments to that going into tomorrow’s game.”
The Colonials and Yellow Jackets return to finish the opening-round series Sunday evening at 7:05 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal round.