RMU hockey's goal: Be sure Niagara falls

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Robert Morris didn't score any style points in its 2-1 series win against American International last weekend, but there's a reason "survive and advance" is a mantra among playoff teams.

The Colonials scrapped and clawed through each game against the Yellow Jackets and will face Niagara in the Atlantic Hockey best-of-three series quarterfinals this weekend in Niagara, N.Y.

If nothing else, Robert Morris faced virtually every pressure scenario imaginable against American International. In game one, the Colonials trailed, 3-1, heading into the third period, but scored four unanswered goals to get the win. In game two, Robert Morris lost a wild, 7-5 shootout in which starting goalie Brooks Ostergard was pulled, then re-inserted.

In game three, the Colonials cruised to a 3-0 lead, but allowed three third-period goals -- one with 11 seconds left -- before winning in overtime.

"It puts a lot of stress on your players, but we handled it really well," coach Derek Schooley said of the dramatic win. "We bounced back from giving up a goal in the last 11 seconds and moved on. Really, that's all you can ask for this time of year, to advance."

Now, the Colonials will face Niagara, a team that they have played more times than any other opponent in the program's eight-year history. The two teams played in College Hockey America together before it folded two years ago. Both jumped to Atlantic Hockey.

"This is a new team, and we've got a whole bunch of new players, but our seniors have played Niagara 19 times in their four years," Schooley said. "It's a series we're looking forward to."

The two teams have played three times this season, with Robert Morris posting an 0-2-1 record against the Purple Eagles. The teams tied Dec. 9, and Niagara swept a home-and-home series Jan. 27-28 with 2-1 wins.

The teams finished the season separated by four points in the standings, which, as Schooley pointed out, could have changed if just one of those head-to-head meetings went the other way.

"We've had some intense games with them this year," Schooley said. "Every game has been very close."

In tight games -- even more so in the playoffs -- having a hot goaltender can make all the difference.

Schooley conceded that Ostergard didn't play his best against the Yellow Jackets last weekend, but said he was confident the senior would bounce back.

Ostergard certainly has the playoff experience to do that. As a freshman, he led Robert Morris to overtime in the CHA title game.

"Brooks is an elite goalie in Atlantic Hockey, and we've been extremely pleased with how he's played over his last three-plus years," Schooley said. "He gives us an opportunity to win every night. That's all you can ask."

Schooley said he was especially pleased with the way his special teams played against American International last weekend. The Colonials have had the best penalty kill in the nation all season, and they also scored four power-play goals against the Yellow Jackets.

Robert Morris and Niagara will face off at 7:05 p.m. today, and the same time Saturday and, in needed, Sunday.

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG.


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