MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Robert Morris opened its first round Atlantic Hockey playoff series against visiting Sacred Heart with a 4-1 victory Friday night at 84 Lumber Arena with secondary scoring leading the charge in a three-goal first period that helped the Colonials set a program record with its 19th victory of the season.
To say the Colonials had a better first period would be putting it mildly. They virtually owned it, piling up an 18-7 shot advantage while keeping the Pioneers from creating anything that resembled a prime scoring chance.
“I thought our start was outstanding, we pinned them in their end and capitalized on our chances,” said RMU coach Derek Schooley. “But in the second and third, we got away from what made us successful. We really would have liked to have had more zone time after the first. We have to get out to another good start tomorrow night and we know that it’s not going to be easy. It’s tough to put a nail in somebody’s coffin and end their season.”
Robert Morris forward Jeff Jones got the Colonials off and running just 1:12 into the first frame when he buried a Zach Hervato pass behind Pioneers’ goaltender Andrew Bodnarchuk for his fourth goal of the season. Colin South added an assist.
Then at 6:17, junior forward Mac Roy doubled the Colonials’ lead when he pounced on a rebound in the slot from a Zac Lynch shot that the Pioneers’ defense was unable to steer away.
Freshman forward Greg Gibson capped off the Colonials’ first-period onslaught at 14:14 with a tap-in from an Andrew Blazek shot pass that caromed off the boards behind Bodnarchuk to a waiting Gibson at the side of the net.
However, for as hemmed in as the Pioneers were and for as shaky as Bodnarchuk appeared in the first, Sacred Heart’s push back in the second, although expected, seemed to slowly take the Colonials off their game plan one shift at a time.
Sacred Heart made the Colonials’ path over the blue line much more difficult to navigate over the last 40 minutes and at the same time, managed to create offensive chances.
The hard work by the Pioneers helped them earn four power plays over the final two periods.
But Colonials’ netminder Eric Levine and a concentrated team penalty killing effort combined to keep Sacred Heart from creeping back into the contest via the man-advantage. It was a stark contrast to the last time the two teams met when Sacred Heart went 5-for-12 for the weekend against the Colonials in a February series.
The Pioneers got on the board, thwarting Levine’s shutout bid at 14:46 of the third when forward Eric DeLong beat Levine with a snap shot from between the circles, but Sacred Heard could not manage to mount any more consistent offensive pressure the rest of the way.
Colonials’ senior forward Adam Brace iced the Robert Morris victory with an empty-net marker at 19:16 to close out the scoring.
“They had us on our heels for the first ten minutes of the first and that’s where we lost the game,” said Sacred Heart coach CJ Marottolo. “After we settled in, it was a back and forth game and going into tomorrow night we have to be mentally ready for 60 minutes. We simply weren’t there tonight. We’ve played very solid hockey these last seven games, we’re in the games and we’re close and we’re playing the best hockey we’ve played all year at the right time.”