PITTSBURGH — A very important two points were on the line today when the Robert Morris Colonials and American International Yellow Jackets wrapped up their weekend series. The conference foes remained just two points apart in the standings heading into Saturday afternoon’s game, which saw the Colonials get some separation with a win.
“I thought our first two periods were very good today,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “We did a good job of pushing the tempo of the play and keeping pucks in their end while getting scoring chances. We could have probably had more goals in the second period, but their goalie (AIC’s Ryan Kerpan) played extremely well there. I thought we did a really good job of maintaining in the third and we played a complete game overall. We pushed the pace today and that was important.”
Both teams brought a high level of intensity in a well-paced first period that saw the Colonials outshoot the Yellow Jackets, 17-7. Kerpan made his first appearance of the weekend and immediately went to work making some key saves on a healthy number of Robert Morris chances early on.
After both teams traded power-play opportunities, Colonials forward Greg Gibson opened the scoring on a strange play. Gibson sent a puck from the lower left circle into the air and into the crease area, where it ricocheted behind Kerpan to put the Colonials in the driver’s seat at 17:59.
The Colonials took their first period intensity and raised it several notches to start the second period, as leading scorer Cody Wydo doubled the Robert Morris lead when he struck iron with a shot that found its way past Kerpan at the 1:06 mark for his 15th goal of the season.
Robert Morris kept the foot to the gas pedal for the next five minutes, seemingly living in the Yellow Jacket end while putting up one shot after another, but could not open up more breathing room as Kerpan made his best saves of the night, causing his teammates on the bench to erupt with noise with each save during the onslaught.
The Yellow Jackets took that confidence and converted it into an important goal, as Jason Popek forced a Colonials turnover in neutral ice and got the disk to Chris Porter, who went in all alone on Colonials netminder Terry Shafer, beating him five-hole for his sixth goal of the season at 3:20.
Colonials forward Jeff Jones then got his team some critical breathing room at 6:48 when he took a pass from defenseman Chase Golightly and split the Yellow Jackets defense in the slot. Jones’ shot beat Kerpan upstairs and represented his second goal of the weekend.
However, the best was yet to come. With just 1:10 left in the second period, the Colonials found themselves killing off an important Yellow Jackets power play. In a situation that could have swung the momentum 180 degrees had the Yellow Jackets scored before intermission, the Colonials made and took advantage of a great opportunity when Wydo got control of a puck in the Robert Morris end and skillfully lifted it in the air and onto the stick of Zac Lynch, who buried it upstairs to give the Colonials a commanding lead.
The Yellow Jackets tried to get back into it in the third, outshooting the Colonials 13-11, but could only manage one marker at 17:58 on defenseman Nick Campanale’s first goal of the season on a skillful deflection that beat Shafer, while Gibson notched his second goal of the afternoon into the empty net to preserve the win.
“I thought one of the major swings for us was when we were down 3-1 and had the power play late,” Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright said. “Then they scored that short-handed goal and it made it pretty difficult for us at that standpoint. Our third period was very strong, I liked our compete level and we didn’t quit, but we put ourselves in a hole tonight. There were a few bounces out there that could have gone either way tonight, but you create your own luck too.”
With the win, the Colonials improved to 6-6-3 (6-13-3 on the year) in conference action while the Yellow Jackets slipped to 5-9-1 (6-15-1).