MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Robert Morris Colonials overcame a determined Army squad, a second0period deficit and the departure of starting goaltender Terry Shafer, and did it with a focused effort in their 3-1 victory in Game 3 of their Atlantic Hockey first-round series Sunday.
The win propelled the Colonials to the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs and ended an Army season that saw the Knights score impressive conference wins down the stretch.
“We were really good in the second and third tonight,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley. “We got some energy working and really dominated that second period, and once we got that third goal we were in lockdown mode.
“Dalton Izyk was brought in here to challenge for the starting job and he didn’t get much of an opportunity because Terry [Shafer] played so well, but he was very confident, calm and very much under control tonight. It truly could have been 6-1 tonight; I thought [Army goaltender Parker] Gahagen was very good once again, too.”
Both teams looked a bit tentative through 20 minutes of play. But in stark contrast to Saturday’s game, the penalty boxes were far more empty.
Both goalies kept the score sheet clean as Gahagen registered his third straight scoreless first period of the weekend. At the other end, Shafer came up huge with just over five minutes left when he stopped Army forward Zak Zaremba on the doorstep attempting to finish a two-on-one chance.
On the first Robert Morris power play early in the second frame the Black Knights got on the board with a short-handed tally from Luke Jenkins at 2:02. Jenkins opportunistically picked up a mishandled puck deep in the Colonials end and sent it past a sprawling Shafer to give the Knights the early lead.
Shafer left the game with an injury at 16:41, and was replaced by freshman Izyk, who stopped all 15 Black Knights shots he faced the rest of the way.
The early deficit and new goaltender seemed to galvanize the Colonials. Robert Morris owned the shots and chances for the remainder of the period and translated the effort to goals.
The first came at 4:44 of the second when forward Greg Gibson pounced on a rebound from a long Matt Cope shot to tie the game.
Then at 11:34, a shot caromed off David Friedmann to put the Colonials in the driver’s seat at 2-1.
Gahagen then took over for the remainder of the second, stopping one Colonials scoring chance after another as Robert Morris desperately sought some breathing room.
At 5:42 of the third period, the Colonials got it.
Defenseman Andrew Blazek beat Gahagen on a strong individual effort, skating around an Army defender just inside the blue line as he wound up a wrister that found the back of the net.
The Knights had one more golden opportunity to climb back into the game with Colonials defenseman Evan Moore serving two minutes in the box for elbowing, but Army’s Maurice Alvarez narrowly missed on a shot from the point that struck iron.
The Knights drew no closer as the Colonials kept their focus on blocking shots and playing sound fundamental defense in preserving the two-goal lead.
“I’m really proud of how our guys played not only tonight, but all weekend,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “Robert Morris is obviously an offensive-minded team and every time they get a goal they seem to get a big push. After that second goal, they had us back on our heels but Parker made some huge saves for us.
“Robert Morris played smart tonight; you’ve got to give them credit for how well they played with that lead. We didn’t get a lot of [Grade A] opportunities when we needed them. We can definitely build on this series going forward next year, though. We were young and we got a lot of good experience this weekend.”
The Colonials move on to the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs where they will travel to Connecticut to take on the Huskies starting next Friday night.