PITTSBURGH — The wild and entertaining three-game series between the American International Yellow Jackets and the Robert Morris Colonials came to an end Sunday in another bizarre contest. The Colonials overcame the intense roller coaster of emotions that marked their third period adventure, a period that saw them take and then lose a 3-0 lead, to make their way through the opening round of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
“They had more jump than we did at times tonight, but our comeback was impressive, particularly on such a big stage.” said Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright. “Meisner was huge for us, and Arcibal just about took over the whole game in the third; they were great. I’m very proud of our team and the way they’ve played these last few weeks; our players never quit.”
Playing a complete, focused, 60-minute hockey game had been a goal for Robert Morris all season, and tonight, it accomplished that feat.
From the outset, the Colonials were the stronger team, amassing a 58-29 shots advantage and developing a territorial domination of the ice as the game progressed. Sophomore forward Colin Sough got the Colonials rolling at 2:36 when he put a sharp-angle shot to the net that squeezed past Yellow Jackets goaltender Ben Meisner. The short-handed goal was South’s ninth tally of the season, with the lone assist going to senior defenseman James Lyle. Meisner kept his team in the contest though, stopping all but one of the Colonials’ 19 shots for the period, which included some point blank saves. Toward the last few minutes of the first frame, freshman defenseman Tyson Wilson almost put the Colonials up by a pair when his shot from the left circle beat Meisner cleanly; however, the goal was waved off due to a Colonials player in the crease.
The Yellow Jackets struggled mightily to get out of their own end for the next 25 minutes of play as the Colonials defense, which had been struggling, sprang to life, challenging every puck carrier and making one smart decision after another. The Colonials then extended their lead to two at 8:01 of the second stanza with Nick Chiavetta’s power-play goal. Chiavetta finished a terrific backhand feed from freshman Scott Jacklin that Meisner had little chance of stopping; it was Chiavetta’s 10th goal of the year, and a small measure of revenge, as Meisner had previously robbed him on a breakaway attempt with a brilliant save just minutes earlier.
In the third period, the Colonials came out on fire with numerous chances. With the Yellow Jackets on a penalty kill, Chiavetta took a Colonials faceoff win over the blue line and stick-handled around a Yellow Jackets defender in the slot as he unleashed a point blank shot on Meisner, who made the initial save. The rebound found the stick of Scott Jacklin, who pushed it into the net to give the Colonials a commanding three-goal lead at 3:34 of the final period.
Robert Morris looked to be in complete and firm control of the game, and might have taken the score to the end, until Nielsson Arcibal put the Yellow Jackets on his back and almost took them to victory.
The senior forward put his team back in the game at 5:55 when he wound up and sent a bullet from between the circles past Colonials goaltender Brooks Ostergard, with assists going to Adam Pleskach and Michael Penny. At 11:39, Arcibal took the puck from behind the red line and blasted around a Colonials defenseman, cutting in front of Ostergard while placing a shot that beat the netminder for his second goal of the period.
The Yellow Jackets then went to work on a five-on-three power-play opportunity for 1:10 with just over five minutes remaining, but several key Colonials blocked shots and Ostergard saves kept the Yellow Jackets at bay.
With time dwindling down and the Colonials using their system perfectly, it looked as if the game would end with a 3-2 Colonials win.
The Yellow Jackets were so penned in that it was unclear if they’d get a chance to pull Meisner for the extra man in the game’s final minutes. However, Meisner came off with 1:15 left and with a faceoff in the Colonials end and 19 seconds on the clock, the stage was set for the heroics that followed.
The Yellow Jackets won the ensuing faceoff and defenseman Jeff Cecacci threw a pass across the blue line to Pleskach, who took a shot that caromed off Colonials defenseman James Lyle’s stick, right to Arcibal, who put the disc past Ostergard for the game-tying goal with just 11 seconds on the clock.
After the puck dropped in overtime, the Yellow Jackets missed the net twice in rapid succession, and not by very much. The Colonials used their first good scoring chance in overtime to end the game. Ron Cramer skated with the puck deep in the Yellow Jackets’ end and emerged from behind the net, where he threw a sharp-angle shot to the net that hit senior forward Brandon Blandina’s stick and then went behind Meisner, giving the Colonials their first playoff series victory in school history 2:36 into the overtime period.
“I thought we played a very good hockey game tonight; we did everything that we needed to do that we had talked about before the game,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “The range of emotions we went through in the last 16 minutes of the third was just unbelievable. As coaches, we had to pick ourselves up after that third period in order to go in and pick the players up. Our seniors stepped up tonight, and our power play did as well.”