Robert Morris advances to first AHA finale

ROBERT MORRIS 5, NIAGARA 4

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(See the updated version of this story).

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Scott Jacklin scored 15 minutes into overtime and No. 5 seed Robert Morris kept its NCAA tournament dream alive with a 5-4 victory against No. 6 Niagara in the Atlantic Hockey Association conference tournament semifinals Friday night at Blue Cross Arena.

The Colonials (18-17-5) will battle for the tournament title and an automatic NCAA tournament bid at 7:05 p.m. today against No. 7 Canisius, which upset top-seeded Mercyhurst, 5-4, in double overtime in the first semifinal.

Robert Morris, in its 10th season at the Division I level, is as close as it has been to its first NCAA tournament appearance. The Colonials lost in overtime of the Central Hockey American conference tournament championship in 2007 and 2009.

It's a familiar scenario for the Canisius, though. The Golden Griffins (17-20-3) entered the conference tournament as the No. 7 seed a year ago before rattling off six consecutive wins to clinch a surprise NCAA tournament berth.

The Colonials were 2-1 against Canisius in the regular season.

Fatigue could be a significant factor tonight in the finale, as both semifinals stretched into overtime and beyond.

The Golden Griffins played more than 93 minutes before Stephen Farrell snuck the winner past Mercyhurst goalie Jimmy Sarjeant at 13:30 of double overtime.

Robert Morris again relied on freshman backup goaltender Dalton Izyk, who first entered as an emergency substitute when starter Terry Shafer, a sophomore, injured his leg in the first round March 9 against Army. Izyk made 48 saves to earn his fourth consecutive victory.

Sophomore forward Greg Gibson got Robert Morris off to a quick start when he took a centering feed in the slot less than three minutes into the game and sent the puck flying past Niagara freshman goaltender Jackson Teichroeb.

The teams traded goals in the second period, but Niagara never once tasted the lead.

The Purple Eagles (15-20-5) tied the score at 1-1 early in middle frame when top-line center Hugo Turcotte scooped an easy rebound off Izyk's pads and flicked it backhanded into the net.

Sophomore forward Matt Cope gave Robert Morris the lead back midway through the second period, rifling a puck past Teichroeb on an odd-man rush.

Despite being on the wrong end of a lopsided 18-10 shot total after one period and 36-19 after two periods, the Colonials made their chances count, and Izyk locked down the other end of the ice to secure a slim, one-goal lead heading into the third.

The third was nothing but fireworks. It featured five goals in the final 12 minutes.

Niagara's Stephen Pietrobon knotted the score at 2-2 by finishing a perfectly executed two-on-one break with 11:28 left in the third. The Colonials answered in rapid succession.

At the 8:31 mark, senior captain Colin South stuffed home a rebound, and exactly a minute later, junior forward Cody Wydo scored his program-record 27th goal this season to make it 4-2.

With Niagara pressing and Robert Morris on its heels, the Purple Eagles struck back with tallies with 3:03 and 2:16 remaining to tie it up and force overtime.

Just as it seemed a second overtime session was inevitable, Jacklin, a junior, swatted the winner into the net. It was four minutes before midnight, and the Colonials streamed off the bench and into their first AHA championship appearance.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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