MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It was something that would take two complete 60-minute efforts, highlight-reel goals and saves and a total commitment to discipline and hard work.
And for one weekend, Robert Morris made it all happen, putting together its most solid efforts of the season capped off by a 5-3 victory on Saturday night against Air Force.
The win gave the Colonials their first sweep of the Falcons since 2006 and also propelled them to within three points of the Falcons in the Atlantic Hockey standings.
“They [Robert Morris] might be the best team that we’ve played this year,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “Their compete level was high, their team speed is outstanding. We need all our guys to play well and we had flashes, but overall, we only won five out of six periods all weekend.”
There was every expectation that Air Force would be extremely motivated and possibly get out of the gates very quickly in the first period, but the Falcons found themselves under attack early on by an onslaught of Colonial shots and scoring chances.
Leading scorer Cody Wydo got the Colonials off and running at 8:41 in the first when he came over the blue line with linemate Zac Lynch on a routine two-on-two. Wydo then threw on the brakes, cutting in front of a Falcons’ defender while releasing a backhander that beat Air Force goaltender Chase Truehl.
However, the Falcons got better as the period went on and started tilting the ice in the Colonials’ end in the last eight minutes.
While working on their first power play of the night, Falcons’ captain Adam McKenzie pushed the puck past Robert Morris netminder Terry Shafer to even the score at one at 12:13.
The Colonials then saw the Falcons desperately trying to take the lead in the last minute of the period as Shafer turned aside some great opportunities.
Shafer came up huge for his team all weekend, but stood out tonight as the quality and quantity Falcons’ scoring chances increased on both counts.
The Air Force power play went to work to start the second period with a chance to seize some momentum. However, Lynch sparked the Colonials with a shorthanded breakaway goal just 48 seconds in.
The shots read Air Force 12, Robert Morris 8 for the second frame, but the Colonials made the most of their opportunities.
The Robert Morris transition game took over for stretches of the period as a series of stick lifts and intercepted passes saw the Colonials break up almost every Falcons’ attempt to keep consistent possession of the puck.
With his team clinging to a one-goal lead, Robert Morris forward Scott Jacklin put his team up by two with a rising shot from the lower right circle that beat Truehl short side at 9:39.
And then, the Colonials scored a goal that could have stood as a microcosm of the weekend. While a Falcons’ defender went to corral a puck behind the goal line, RMU captain Colin South played the role of a pick-pocket, forcing a turnover while his linemates rushed in to support. The Colonials worked to keep the play alive long enough for forward David Friedman to pounce on a loose puck from close range, which he buried at 11:41 to give the Colonials what appeared to be a commanding three-goal lead at the end of the second.
The third period saw the Falcons throw the kitchen sink at the Colonials and then some, showing a great deal of resolve and patience at the same time. However, to get back into the contest, Air Force needed a goal and needed it fast and at 12:02 they got it from Ben Persian, who beat Shafer from close range.
Serratore then went with the extra attacker with four minutes left in the third and the move paid off almost immediately. Chad Demers’ shot from between the circles found the back of the net just 17 seconds later to trim the Colonial lead to one with an eternity left to play in regulation.
Robert Morris then collected themselves, clearing almost every puck out of their end, but not far enough for icing, while keeping most of the Air Force possessions out of the prime scoring areas down the stretch.
With just 27 ticks remaining, RMU forward Brandon Denham found his second empty net of the weekend as he found Wydo’s near miss and tucked it in from a sharp angle.
“We played so well and so hard for five periods, but we got away from what we needed to do in the third period,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “It’s a great lesson for a young hockey team, we have to play 60 minutes every night, because good teams just don’t go away. Air Force came with a lot of passion and energy in that third period and we were watching and standing around a little bit. Terry Shafer was the difference in the third period tonight.”