BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sophomore center Scott Jacklin broke a 1-1 tie with a goal at 12:13 of the second period, and senior forward Zach Hervato’s marker 43 seconds later gave Robert Morris University the cushion it would need to ride a bad sheet of ice to a key Atlantic Hockey Association road win over Canisius, 4-2, on Friday at the Buffalo State Ice Arena.
“This time of year, you gotta do the right things and pay the price, because everyone is playing well this time of year,” said RMU coach Derek Schooley. “There’s a little more tension in the locker room, a little more tension on the bench, and you have to play as hard as you can — but I like how we’ve been playing hockey. It was important just to get the job done here tonight. They don’t ask how at the end of the year — they ask how many. That was a good win for us.”
The victory gave the Colonials (17-12-2, 12-11-1) only their second two-game winning streak since sweeping through the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh in late December — and that other pair of victories came against woeful Sacred Heart. More importantly, Robert Morris nudged two points closer to fourth place in the AHA and a free pass into the conference quarterfinal playoffs in March.
The Colonials are currently tied with Holy Cross for fifth in the AHA with 25 points, trailing Connecticut and Mercyhurst, each with 26 points. Holy Cross has a game in hand on each of these teams. The Rochester Institute of Technology is drafting the pack with 24 points.
Niagara has already clinched the AHA title, and Air Force appears to be firmly in second place with 31 points.
The start of the game was delayed by 20 minutes after game officials ordered the Zamboni to refresh the choppy surface at the Golden Griffins’ home rink on Buffalo’s West Side, and both teams appeared to struggle to find rhythm.
Freshman center Greg Gibson’s goal at 15:03 of the first period gave the Colonials a 1-0 lead, but seemed as out of sync as the game itself — linemate Matt Cope swung and missed on a shot at Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco’s left post, and the puck casually slid past through the exposed crease before Gibson dove to knock it home, defender on his back.
“It was a great play by Matt Cope,” Schooley said. “He kind of fanned on the shot, but it was a good thing he did, because Gibson put it in back door. That line, that was our best forward line in the first period — Gibson, Cope, and (winger Brandon) Denham. They played with a lot of energy and kept the game simple when the ice was bad. Guys wanted to play the same way they play on good ice, and — I mean, there was a ridge in the middle of the ice. Pucks were flying, pucks couldn’t lay flat, and they kept it simple. That’s why they had success.”
Canisius forward Preston Shupe tied the game with a short-handed goal at 7:08 of the second period, but Jacklin responded just over five minutes later when he took a pass from Tyler Hinds at the right point, found an open lane toward Capobianco, and wristed a hard shot around the netminder for a 2-1 Robert Morris lead.
Hervato was credited with the eventual game-winner at 13:06, dogging Griffs defenseman Doug Jessey around the back of the Canisius net as the sophomore blueliner struggled to find space in a crowded pack of bodies gathering near Capobianco’s crease. Hervato’s pestering worked, and Jessey was harassed into clipping a puck back toward his own net that Capobianco never saw, boosting the Colonials to a 3-1 advantage.
“I thought most of the first period we were pretty good, most of the third period we were pretty good,” Griffs coach Dave Smith said. “But there was a lull through the second period where we just have to be better. We got a huge goal from Preston, and then we just fell into a quiet time that kind of got us back on our heels. As much as Robert Morris deserves credit for the win, I felt like our game took a break during that period. We haven’t had a lot of that, but we did tonight.”
Cody Wydo upped the Robert Morris lead to 4-1 with a short-handed goal at 5:51 of the third period. Shupe added his second goal of the game with 1:13 remaining in the game — too little, too late for a Griffs squad that has struggled to score all season.
“It’s frustrating right now,” Shupe said. “But we do have a few games left in the season, and coming into a home game, we know how important it is to win. To lose, that’s a tough one to swallow. We just have to wipe the slate clean. We can’t afford to get on the bus (tomorrow) angry or pouting. It’s like playoffs every day.”
Capobianco took the loss for Canisius, stopping 28 shots in defeat. Eric Levine was credited with the win for the Colonials, collecting 41 saves and sharpening noticeably as the game moved along.
The two teams will travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday to complete the weekend home-and-home series. The Griffs (11-17-5, 10-12-2) have ridden a 3-8 streak over the past 11 games to ninth place in the AHA — but, with 22 points, can still finish as high as fourth in the conference and earn that bye into to quarterfinals.
Canisius, however, would need a lot of help, and it starts with their own front line. The Griffs are 1-17-4 this season when they fail to score three goals in a game, and desperately need to generate offense to snap a four-game losing streak at the campaign’s most crucial point.
“We’ve got the right guys,” Smith said. “The right guys are there…(but) it’s such a fine line. Teams are very, very good every night, and you’ve just got to stay with it. You never know what’s around the next corner. It would be wrong for us to jump on the negative train right now, because I know what we’ve got. I know we can be better.”