PITTSBURGH — The Mercyhurst Lakers seemingly had nothing on the line tonight in their contest with the Robert Morris Colonials. Having wrapped up the Atlantic Hockey regular season title last weekend, the Lakers had nothing to gain coming into the final night of play. However a sense of pride, determination, and a willingness to carry momentum into the postseason, as well as captain Daniel O’Donoghue’s two goals, propelled the Lakers past the Colonials, who were poised to capture a first-round bye for the upcoming postseason.
“I thought Mercyhurst capitalized on their chances and we didn’t,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “I mean, we had a 19-9 scoring chance advantage and we we’re down three to one. We just gave them too many easy goals, too many turnovers in front of our own net, and they capitalized. I’ve got no problem with our effort tonight; I just think our execution was not very good at times and it cost us. Hats off to Jordan Tibbet too, he played very well. This is going to sting for a little bit. We just have to put it behind us and move forward.”
The Colonials carried the play for much of the first period, outshooting the Lakers 11-7, but Lakers goaltender Jordan Tibbet kept Robert Morris from scoring the critical first goal with several key saves, several of them coming near the halfway point of the opening frame during a furious goalmouth scramble on Tibbet’s doorstep.
The Lakers grabbed the first real momentum of the game with a pair of special teams efforts early in the second period. The first came during a Robert Morris power play when forward Kyle Just used a Colonials defenseman as a screen on a short-handed two-on-two rush over the Robert Morris blue line. Just’s wrister beat goaltender Terry Shafer at 6:17 of the second to put the Lakers on the board.
Less than two minutes later, O’Donoghue’s first tally doubled the lead when he took a perfect cross-crease pass from Ryan Misiak and tipped it into an open net on a power play at 7:51.
The Colonials then went to work on a power play just a few minutes later on which they weren’t able to capitalize, but seconds after the penalty expired, Robert Morris captain Colin South beat Tibbet from the slot to cut the Mercyhurst lead in half at 12:52.
The momentum appeared to turn in the Colonials favor following South’s goal, but it was quickly taken back with O’Donoghue’s second goal at 15:21, as he one-timed another Misiak pass into the cage to replace his team’s two-goal advantage.
The Lakers then put the defense to work, allowing the Colonials outside chances, but collapsing down low to take away the area between the circles.
The Colonials put forth a third period of complete desperation, down two goals and needing a win to clinch a first-round bye. Robert Morris threw everything at Tibbet and the Lakers, firing 24 shots, but only forward Cody Wydo was able to get the puck in the back of the net. With a strong individual effort, Wydo took a pass in the slot, then drew the puck around the Lakers netminder to put the Colonials back in the game at 9:13. It proved to be a historic goal, as Wydo’s 23rd of the season set a Colonials record for goals scored in a single season.
However, it wasn’t enough, as Tibbet kept making saves, including some critical ones during a Colonials power play late in the final period with Shafer pulled in favor of an extra attacker. Lakers forwards Nardo Nagtzaam and Trent Frey finished out the scoring with goals at 16:44 and 19:56 respectively.
“I was disappointed with the way we started the first period tonight,” Lakers coach Rick Gotkin said. “Even though we clinched the title last weekend, our challenge was to keep the pedal to the metal and I didn’t feel like we did that through 20 minutes. Goals are momentum and we got that short-handed goal and power-play goal there in the second and we knew Robert Morris was going to battle back. I was actually glad when they made it 2-1 because I was hoping that was going to make us better. We’re trying to prepare, just like Robert Morris is, for the playoffs, and this was playoff hockey tonight.”