MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The hotly-contested weekend series between Robert Morris and Connecticut came to a close Saturday night at the 84 Lumber Arena.
In one of the most intense battles of the season, the Colonials emerged victorious on the strength of forward Adam Brace’s goal and two-assist effort in the 4-3 win.
With a Huskies’ power play expiring late in the final frame, freshman David Friedman sent a rebound from a Brace shot over the goal line from the right circle for the game-winning tally.
“They really took it to us in the first period and we didn’t respond very well, we were throwing gas on the fire,” said Colonials’ coach Derek Schooley. “This was the first real adversity we faced all year, we were getting our rear ends kicked at home and we had to salvage two points tonight. But we stepped up and put out the fire in the second and third. We had a lot of guys step up and give good efforts.”
The opening 20 minutes looked very much like the previous night’s with the Huskies seizing every opportunity to get on the board early and hitting anything that moved.
Connecticut outworked Robert Morris to the early loose pucks and made it very difficult to generate any kind of offense by the rush or to even simply posess the puck for any great length.
The game’s first golden chance came at the 8:14 mark with the Huskies on a two-man advantage. Connecticut forward Billy Latta scored his first tally of the year when he swept a rebound past Colonials’ netminder Eric Levine to put the Huskies out front early.
The Colonials then answered on their own man-advantage when Greg Gibson tipped a hard shot from the point by defenseman Jimmy Geerin to tie the score midway through the first.
However, the Huskies kept up the intensity and never let the Colonials build any kind of momentum from the rare power-play marker. Less than two minutes later, Huskies’ forward Jordan Sims, stationed in the slot, took a pass from Brant Harris in the right corner and sent it to the back of the net to put Connecticut back on top.
A huge moment then came at 15:28 when Robert Morris forward Zach Hervato was sent to the box for charging. Hervato was then given a game misconduct for foul language on his way to the sin bin as the Colonials found themselves down a goal on the scoreboard and down a forward on the depth chart.
Robert Morris then set to turning the tide of the game in the second and came out of the dressing room with renewed purpose.
Just 57 seconds into the second, Brace slid a pass across the slot to a waiting Cody Wydo off a two-on-nothing rush to cut the deficit in half. And while Connecticut’s constant cycling in the Colonial end took some puck possession away, the Robert Morris defense kept the action out of the hot spots for the remainder of the contest.
Brace then put the Colonials in the lead at 14:57 as he took the puck down the right wing boards, pulled up and fired past starting UConn goaltender Garrett Bartus for the shorthanded goal. The Huskies then answered with a shorty of their own at 19:10 with a goal from Sims that tied the score in the final minute of the third, setting the stage for perhaps the most important 20 minutes of the season for Robert Morris.
And when the Colonials absolutely needed to be their best, they produced, outshooting the Huskies 17-10.
The win gave the Colonials a split in the crucial weekend series which was extremely hard fought on both sides.
“I thought we came out the blocks and controlled the first tonight, but we were back on our heels in the second and parts of the third,” said UConn interim coach David Berard. “Our biggest problem tonight is that we lost our discipline and uncharacteristically, we took a lot of penalties. When you make a parade to the box like we did tonight, you don’t deserve to win. They did a good job keeping us to the outside in the third and did what they had to do to win.”