College Hockey:
Jones paces Robert Morris to tie with American International

PITTSBURGH — The Robert Morris Colonials and American International College Yellow Jackets treated the fans to an exciting contest Friday night, skating to a hard-fought 4-4 tie. The game bore a strong resemblance to previous meetings between the two schools, where fast exchanges of goals and end-to-end action had become the norm.

“I liked out power play, it was really potent tonight,” Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright said. “In the third period, I thought we had a 12- to 15-minute span where we were very good, but other times in the first and second where we didn’t play very well.  Part of that was Robert Morris and their dangerous forwards who presented some problems for us as well. We’ve put a lot of focus on some areas since we’ve come back from the break, and we’ve been working on our forecheck with both positioning and reads and it showed at times tonight. I thought (Hunter) Leisner was resilient tonight. He’s got a really short memory and he’s got that mental toughness to stay the course.”

The action on the ice was intense from the drop of the puck, as both teams traded chances early on. Yellow Jackets netminder Leisner made some key saves to keep the Colonials off the board early on while the ice was tilted in his direction. However, the second half of the first period saw the Yellow Jackets get to their game with authority.

AIC defenseman Dominic Robaldo opened the scoring at the 11:43 mark with AIC on its first of five power-play chances on the night. Robaldo went to the slot and beat Colonials goaltender Terry Shafer to score the first of two AIC first-period goals. The second AIC tally came just a few minutes later when Jon Puskar buried a loose puck past Shafer while the Colonials missed several opportunities to get the puck out of danger. It was Puskar’s 10th goal of the season, which tied him for the team lead.

The Colonials struck back just 17 seconds later when forward Jeff Jones, the game’s first star, unleashed a rising backhander from the lower right circle that found its way past Leisner to cut the AIC lead in half at 17:07.

The momentum swings throughout the rest of the contest were dramatic, though neither team seemed to seize any amount of total control. Robert Morris opened the second frame with a great deal of intensity and got a power play at the 1:52 mark. AIC kept the Colonials at bay for most of the ensuing penalty kill, and even managed a few short-handed shots, and then Scott Jacklin’s goal from the left circle tied the score at two with assists going to David Friedmann and John Rey.

The teams exchanged goals again when Yellow Jackets forward Jason Popek flew down the right wing boards and released a hard shot that beat Shafer to put AIC back out in front at the 7:11 mark.

Just 24 seconds later, in the midst of a relentless shift, Colonials forward Brandon Denham tied the game with his third goal of the season.

Yellow Jackets forward Blake Peake then gave his side the lead again less than two minutes later with assists from Jake Williams and David Norris.

Colonials captain Colin South gave his team new life at 1:26 of the third when he sent a rebound past an out-of-position Leisner for his third goal of the season. For the rest of the third, the Colonials and Yellow Jackets shut the door on the scoring, but not the chances, as both goaltenders stood tall for the rest of regulation.

Both teams had chances in overtime. The Colonials saw their best chance on a two-on-one as David Rigatti barely missed the would-be game-winner, while the Yellow Jackets found themselves the recipient of a rare power play in the bonus period, but the Colonials penalty kill pulled together and did not allow any shots.

“Tonight I commended our team for their stick-to-itiveness,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “We were down 2-0 and we didn’t get flustered or frustrated. I thought our forwards were outstanding in the first two periods and our defense were kind of lagging behind. Then in the third I thought our defense was great and our forwards took a step back. When you spot a team a lead and you’re chasing the whole game you should feel good about a tie, but then the other team should feel lucky too, especially when you have a two-on-one in overtime. It was an exciting hockey game; both teams left it on the ice, that’s for sure.”

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