MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Sacred Heart Pioneers just wouldn’t go away. Not once, not twice, but three times the Pioneers answered Robert Morris Colonials goals with one of their own to cut the deficit to one goal. However, the Pioneers couldn’t overcome being short-handed at critical times in the final period. In the mix of momentum-interrupting penalties were three game misconduct penalties that took away any Pioneers hope of tying the hard-fought conference battle.
“We battled for 60 minutes tonight, and our effort and execution was there,” said Sacred Heart coach CJ Marottolo. “Robert Morris capitalized on a couple of our puck-management mistakes. We need to curb our frustration somewhat (alluding to the game misconducts). But I told the guys I was very proud of their effort and their resiliency.”
The Pioneers came out of the gate with intensity befitting a team looking for its first win of the season, keeping the Colonials hemmed in their own end for most of the first four minutes. Then, with Pioneers forward Morgan Bonner in the penalty box for a roughing after the whistle minor, the Colonials struck first when captain Brendan Jamison let a low shot go from the right circle that somehow got through goaltender Steve Legatto at the 5:32 mark of the first.
Colonials forward Greg Gibson then took even more wind out of the Pioneers sails just 25 seconds later when he sent a blast from the left circle to the top corner of the net on the short side to double the Robert Morris lead.
The Pioneers then went straight to work on climbing back into the contest on the strength of three power-play goals, the first at 7:49 of the first period when leading scorer Brian Sheehan threw a shot from a near impossible angle that banked in off of Colonials netminder Eric Levine to cut the lead in half.
Robert Morris forward Zac Lynch then came through with his first career goal at 10:38 when he kept the puck on a two-on-one and placed a perfect shot between Legatto’s short side and the post to put the Colonials back in front by two.
In ironic fashion, Lynch was also in the penalty box when Pioneers defenseman Will Rayner put home a rebound from a Kyle Verbeek shot to close out the scoring for the first frame. The Colonials took a 3-2 lead to the dressing room, despite being short-handed four times and outshot, 16-14, by the Pioneers.
The second frame saw the Colonials put some great shifts together at even strength, tilting the ice in the Sacred Heart end while also supplying 21 shots and many prime scoring chances. At 13:20, Colonials senior forward Zach Hervato added to his growing list of highlight-reel goals when he skated down the left wing boards, leaving the Pioneers defense in his wake while beating Legatto with low shot through the five hole. It was Hervato’s career best eighth goal of the season, and it put the Colonials back in front by two.
However, Pioneers captain Eric DeLong put his team back into the contest less than three minutes later on Sacred Heart’s third power-play goal of the night, slamming a rebound past an out-of-position Levine at 15:05 of the second. Robert Morris defenseman Andrew Blazek then tallied his eighth goal of the season, putting home a perfect pass from leading scorer Adam Brace with a shot from left circle.
Sacred Heard had no more answers in the third period, and though the Pioneers generated scoring chances at times in the final frame, Levine made the crucial saves to keep his team in front for good while forward Scott Jacklin finished the scoring at 19:50 with an empty-net tally.
“We have to be more disciplined; we are taking way too many penalties,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “We gave up too many second chances tonight. I loved our even-strength energy tonight; we just need to play more at even strength.”
The two teams finish their weekend series at 7:05 Saturday night at the 84 Lumber Arena.