PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Sacred Heart Pioneers came out of the gate with their best 20 minutes of hockey in the first period of tonight’s second game of the opening round Atlantic Hockey playoff series with Robert Morris, but Robert Morris notched five unanswered goals over the final 40 minutes to seal a commanding 6-1 victory Saturday night.
“We knew that they were going to come out flying.” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “They came out and had the majority of chances in that first period, and Levine was outstanding; he bailed us out a few times tonight. We took everything they had early on, and our depth really helped us take over in the second and third.”
In a fast-paced first 30 minutes that saw the teams combine for 28 shots, it was the Colonials that got on the board first when leading scorer Adam Brace came flying from behind the Pioneers cage while attempting a wraparound chance. Sacred Heart goaltender Andrew Bodnarchuk made the initial save, but left a rebound for a waiting Colin South, who sent the puck over the goal line for his 13th of the season at 9:27.
Sacred Heard tied it when Kyle Verbeek slapped home a puck waiting at the top of the slot at 16:14, with the lone assist going to Ben Lake.
Colonials netminder Eric Levine came up with crucial saves on some golden opportunities, including a point blank stop on Brian Sheehan at 7:30 that seemed destined for the back of the net.
For as promising a start as the Pioneers had generated, the Colonials absorbed it, and, over the course of the final 40 minutes, took the play to the Pioneers, as each subsequent Colonials goal seemed to take more and more energy out of their opponent.
Tyler Hinds put Robert Morris on top at 2:22 of the second when his slap shot from just inside the blue line beat Bodnarchuk’s glove hand, and less than four minutes later, forward Cody Wydo slid home a perfect pass from Scott Jacklin for his team-leading 18th goal of the year to put the Colonials up 3-1. Forward Matt Cope then came up with the goal that seemingly took the remaining starch out of the Pioneers at 17:41 of the second.
The third period saw the Colonials capitalize on the growing number of Pioneers mistakes. Both Wydo and freshman forward Greg Gibson tacked on third-period goals to give the Colonials their final margin of victory, while Levine calmly stopped 22 of 23 shots on the night.
“I thought we were really physical and had some great chances in the first, but Levine made some really good saves.” said Sacred Heart coach CJ Marottolo. “In the second and third, we just didn’t have it, I don’t know how to explain it. They started winning all the races and battles; it was a disappointing finish tonight. But I have to say that I’m proud of the way we finished this year, these last eight games; things were really bleak for us, but we battled and competed.”
The Colonials will travel to Connecticut next weekend for their second round series against the Huskies.