It took the Robert Morris University men’s hockey team a few minutes to rediscover its game Monday night at CONSOL Energy Center, but the result still looked rather familiar at the final buzzer.
The 19th-ranked Colonials earned their 12th win in 17 games this season, downing in-state rival Penn State 4-2 in a Three Rivers Classic first-round matchup. Daniel Leavens had a goal and an assist – one of nine Colonials with at least a point – and Terry Shafer stopped 35 shots as RMU advanced to play Colgate in Tuesday night’s championship game.
A quick two-goal outburst in the second period was key to the win, as Brady Ferguson and John Rey netted power-play tallies in a span of 30 seconds to crack open a scoreless game.
“We stuck with the process,” said RMU head coach Derek Schooley. “Maybe we looked like we were still on Christmas break in the first five minutes with some turnovers, but when we stayed with the game plan, you saw our skill level eventually take over at certain times of the game.”
Shafer, who made a program-record 59 saves in last year’s Three Rivers Classic loss to Penn State, helped RMU (12-2-3) keep its equilibrium at several junctures. The 20th-ranked Nittany Lions (9-5-2) tested the junior goalie from all angles, but could only beat him after a pair of fortunate bounces.
“It’s always fun to play in an NHL arena,” Shafer said. “You want to come out and have your best showing. The real No. 1 star was our defense, they did a great job in front of me.”
The Colonials blocked 27 shots as a team, including five from Tyson Wilson and four each by fellow defensemen Chase Golightly and Rob Mann. All those cancellations helped to stymie a potent Penn State squad that is one of the few in Division I that can rival RMU’s offensive might.
“We put a big emphasis on blocking shots this year,” said RMU head coach Derek Schooley. “Our guys have bought into that, but we’ve been getting great goaltending all season from Terry and Dalton Izyk. We had to be good away from the puck defensively, because Penn State funneled a lot of pucks to the net.”
Special teams were also critical to the Colonials, who have now beaten Penn State in three of their five all-time meetings and two of three in downtown Pittsburgh. RMU went 2 for 6 on the power play and also blanked the Nittany Lions’ fifth-ranked advantage unit on three opportunities.
After an action-packed first period, the two teams continued to generate offensive chances in the second. However, point-blank saves by Penn State goalie Eamon McAdam on Cody Wydo and Greg Gibson kept the game scoreless until Penn State’s Nate Jensen was whistled for a contact to the head penalty at center ice.
That gave the Colonials a five-minute power play with 9:18 to go in the period, and they eventually took advantage. The first goal came off the stick of the freshman Ferguson, who cradled a pass from Wilson in the high slot and whipped a wrist shot through McAdam with 5:49 left in the frame.
With the major penalty still on the scoreboard, RMU capitalized again when Rey drove a wrister through a screen and inside the left post. Brandon Denham picked up the primary assist by relaying the puck along the left boards to a waiting Rey at the point.
“We didn’t score on a lot of our pretty plays, but we got goals on some screens and deflections,” Schooley said. “That’s hockey sometimes. Still, we generated energy on the power play, and that led to the chances we got.”
Matt Cope narrowly missed making it 3-0 on a rebound chance, but Penn State cut the lead in half after a faceoff win with 2:36 remaining in the period. Scott Conway elevated a generous net-front carom to make it 2-1, sticking the puck under the crossbar to give the Lions some energy.
But despite that minor setback, the Colonials kept at it early in the third, earning a key goal at 4:36 to restore a more comfortable lead. Golightly intercepted a clearing attempt at the right point and rifled a low shot that Leavens tipped past McAdam from the top of the crease.
“Watching the guys last year when we lost to Penn State, I could see the anger they had after the game,” said Leavens, a scratch for the 2013 Three Rivers Classic opener against the Nittany Lions. “We’re rivals and it’s nice to get them back and get the two points.”
Added Shafer: “Anytime you get a chance to go up against a big school and an in-state rival, there are some bragging rights on the line. It’s really easy to get up for games like these.”
It appeared that 3-1 might be the final margin, as RMU killed off a Penn State power play midway through the third and Shafer made an outstanding lunging save on Chase Bailey with a few minutes left.
However, Bailey had his revenge with 1:49 to play, when he whipped a loose puck high into the twine with McAdam off the ice for an extra skater. Penn State yanked its goalie again moments later, but Lynch impressively hit the empty net from his own zone with 48 seconds left to clinch the victory.
Lynch’s goal, his seventh of the season, was the only point scored by RMU’s top line, which also includes the nation’s No. 3 scorer in Wydo and the dangerous Scott Jacklin. That trio created several terrific opportunities, but once again the Colonials proved they are anything but a top-heavy squad.
“Our depth is outstanding,” Schooley said. “If one line or one guy doesn’t score, we have people to pick them up. That’s the sign of a good, deep hockey team.”
After Penn State battles Western Michigan in the consolation game Tuesday afternoon, Robert Morris will gun for its second Three Rivers Classic trophy in three years against Colgate. The puck drops at 7:35 p.m. in the championship tilt.-by RMU PR staff