The Bentley Falcons did almost everything they needed to do to take a hard-fought win against a red-hot Robert Morris Colonial side that was looking for their fifth win in their last six games. However, they failed to nail down a late third period Colonial attack that saw Michael Louria tie the game with less than a minute to play. A bad situation became worse for the Falcons as just :27 into overtime, Alex Tonge swept a shot from the slot past goaltender Aiden Pelino to give the Colonials a thrilling and hard fought victory at RMU Island Sports Center on Friday evening.
The crucial Atlantic Hockey match up included a little bit of everything from the aforementioned late game heroics to a first period full of bone crunching hits from both teams, to two remarkable goaltender performances that saw Pelino and Colonial net minder Francis Marotte both make highlight reel saves to keep their team in the lead or tied. The Colonials and Falcons gave fans in attendance their monies worth and then some. For Robert Morris, the result was a complete turnaround from the results they’d seen in the first half of the season where the effort was good on many nights, but the rewards were missing. The Colonial’s confidence factor, which was at a season low through the early portion of December, took another step forward in the critical victory.
“We’ve had a lot of games where we had the belief going into the third period and we hadn’t been rewarded,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “I don’t think we had our best game. That’s a game we play in November that we don’t win and the difference is the belief we have and we get that win in January. We didn’t want to come out with just one point when we got to overtime, we went after it.”
The teams opened the game with a flurry of hits, scoring chances and exciting end to end action as players were sent flying and the goalies were tested. Following a scoreless first 20 minutes, Bentley forward Connor Brassard put his team out front with a hard shot from the right circle at 8:26 of the second frame. Special teams then played a part in the next two goals, the first one coming off the stick of Colonial forward Timmy Moore on the power play, a goal made possible by Tonge’s forced turnover which he turned into an assist. But the Falcons seized momentum with a power play tally of their own with less than :15 seconds left in the period as Michael Zuffrante scored off a face off in the Colonial end to put the Falcons back out front.
“I thought our start was good,” Schooley said. “I thought our first eight or nine minutes were good and then we went into a lull for about five minutes. They took it too us in spurts tonight, and we’ve got to find a way to stop those spurts. To give up that late period goal, that’s a momentum goal that we can’t allow to happen. We had a couple of needless penalties which took our energy away from us but we found a way to get that energy back right in time.”
The stage was then set for the third period dramatics as Pelino and Marotte dueled in their nets, making one key save after another as both teams pushed hard for the next goal. Following the third Falcon penalty kill of the period, the Colonial net had been vacated in the waning moments of regulation when a strong Tonge back check started momentum going the Colonials way resulting in Louria’s goal in which he buried a perfect feed from Brady Ferguson to send the game to overtime where Tonge provided the game winner.
It was a hard loss for Bentley who held their own in terms of both territory and shots, but came away with no points.
“I thought for 59 minutes it was probably one of our top three performances of the year and I’m extremely proud of our guys and the effort that they put forth,” Falcon head coach Ryan Soderquist said. “Our goaltender made some great saves and our penalty kill was phenomenal at the end. For us to play 59 minutes and fall asleep in the last minute and leave a guy open on the backdoor is extremely hard to take right now. Pelino was absolutely phenomenal, and the fact that he’s walking out of here with three goals against; I feel awful for him. You can’t learn 60 minutes in late January and we just did tonight for the umpteenth time this year.”
The teams finish their two game set on Saturday night at 4:05 PM at the Island Sports Center.