PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The age-old debate of “Better to be lucky or good?” came to the surface tonight at the Consol Energy Center, as the Robert Morris Colonials clinched the Inaugural Three Rivers Classic with a 1-0 shutout over the No. 5 University of Miami RedHawks. Colonials freshman Brandon Denham’s first career goal in the third period provided all the offense Robert Morris would need, as goaltender Eric Levine stretched his shutout streak to two complete games, stopping all 99 shots he faced on the weekend.
“You have to take your hat off to their goaltender,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “He played great tonight and made some huge saves. We broke down for one second there and they were able to score a goal, and that can’t happen when you’re playing a hot goaltender like we were tonight. I thought we played hard and got enough chances to be in the game and they scored one more goal than we did tonight.”
The Colonials used both good and the luck in defeating the RedHawks, keeping many potential scoring chances to the perimeter with smart positional play while blocking shots with reckless abandon.
The first period saw the Colonials setting a physical tone in the first few shifts, while the RedHawks put their game plan into action early by keeping Robert Morris from getting into any kind of offensive attack. On the game’s first power play, a Denham slashing minor, Levine stoned forward Alex Wideman on a breakaway attempt to keep the game scoreless. Miami piled up 18 shots in the first period, and the Colonials never kept any kind of consistent offensive zone pressure, managing just six shots.
At the start of the second, the Colonials found themselves with a two-man advantage for 1:33, but the RedHawks kept their opponent away from the prime scoring areas. Robert Morris then started getting to their game throughout the rest of the period by creating more zone time, but still could not get the puck to the net, thanks to the stingy Miami defense, which kept starting goaltender Ryan McKay from having to make any kind of spectacular save by clearing rebounds as soon as they happened for most of the game.
The game seemed destined for a 0-0 finish until the 7:54 mark of the third period when Colonials defenseman Tyler Hinds took the puck down the right wing boards and into the corner, where he threw it into the front of the slot for a waiting Denham, who finessed it past McKay to notch the game’s only tally.
The RedHawks went back to work with a more intense pace spawning a few very good scoring chances. At 10:32, the luck factor swung the Colonials way. Levine ended up with a shot from forward Curtis McKenzie stuck in his glove which was very close to going over the goal line.
“I was happy the puck found my glove,” said Levine “One of the things that you’re taught as a goalie is to always keep your hands out, and I’m not gonna tell you that that’s how I planned it, but sometimes you have to be lucky. Once I found it in the glove, I did take a look over and just kept it out of the goal line.”
Robert Morris was then able to fend off the RedHawks for the remainder of the third period. Miami outshot Robert Morris, 51-21, for the game, but went 0-7 on the power play for the night.
Colonials coach Derek Schooley had nothing but praise for his senior goaltender.
“I think that had to be one of the best goaltending performances that we’ve had in our history, and the best part about it is that he made it look easy. said Schooley. “Anytime you go into the third period tied against a ranked team, you play 20 minutes for all the marbles, and we got a bounce. We showed a lot of determination and guts killing off some penalties tonight. I think this group of guys plays for each other, and I’ve said it numerous times but we might not have the best talent that we’ve had as a program in our history, but we’ve got the best team.
With the win, Robert Morris found themselves winners of the Inaugural Confluence Cup as winners of the Three Rivers Classic.