Robert Morris is steadily proving this midseason turnaround is no fluke. The Colonials knocked off Air Force, 3-1, in the series opener Friday night at 84 Lumber Arena to improve to 5-1-1 in January.
Robert Morris (7-13-3, 7-6-3 Atlantic Hockey Association) rode its sophomore class to the decisive win, with goals from Chase Golightly, David Friedmann and Brandon Denham and a near-shutout from goaltender Terry Shafer.
“Our work ethic, our want, our compete level and our battle level were sky-high,” coach Derek Schooley said. “It was unbelievable.”
The Falcons (14-7-4, 9-4-3) entered the game 7-1-3 in their past 11 and hadn’t been defeated in regulation since Nov. 29.
Schooley was plenty familiar with Air Force freshman goaltender Chris Truehl, who spent the 2012-13 season with the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League. Truehl entered the game 5-0-0 with a 1.45 goals-against average since taking over as starter earlier this month.
Schooley instructed the Colonials to shell the rookie netminder with as many pucks as possible. And they did, registering 41 shots on net in the victory.
After a scoreless first period, Golightly, a defenseman, drew first blood for Robert Morris 75 seconds into the middle frame. Golightly jumped up on the play through the neutral zone and redirected a centering pass past Truehl from the slot.
“I think that was just a tipping point we needed,” Golightly said. “We were all over them, and popping that one in gave the boys some confidence to keep going and keep trusting in what we’re doing.”
Air Force forward Cole Gunner, the Falcons’ leading scorer with 11 goals, had a couple of point-blank chances to knot the score on an ensuing power play, but his first ricocheted off the crossbar and his second was redirected over a wide-open net, over the glass and into the safety netting.
“They say the post is a goalie’s best friend,” Shafer said, grinning. “I’ll take that bounce anytime I can get it. Even good players miss great chances, and fortunately he missed two.”
Through two periods, the Colonials had a 32-13 edge in shots on goal.
“The problem when you’re outshooting a team so badly and dominating the play is you can let them hang around,” Schooley said. “We didn’t. We got the next one.”
Robert Morris extended the lead five minutes into the third period when Friedmann rifled a power-play goal over Truehl’s shoulder from the bottom of the left circle for his sixth of the season.
The Colonials fought off a five-on-three power play, their last of five successful penalty-kill opportunities, midway through the period to preserve the lead.
“That sucked the life out of them,” Schooley said.
With Truehl on the bench for an extra attacker, Denham netted an empty-net goal, but Air Force wasn’t done battling. Falcons forward Mitch Torrel tipped the puck past Shafer with 4.4 seconds remaining to dash the shutout bid.
“Ah, that’s hockey,” Shafer said, glancing up to the rafters. “The hockey gods decided today wasn’t the day for me to get a shutout.”
The Robert Morris victory evened the season series at one game apiece. The teams will meet tonight to settle the score in their third and final meeting of the season.
“That’s a very good hockey team that’s going to come out for blood,” Schooley said, gesturing toward the Air Force bench. “They’re hungry.”
NOTE — Mackenzie Johnston scored two goals to help the No. 7 Robert Morris women beat host Mercyhurst, 3-1, for a program-record 20th win for the Colonials (20-3-2, 9-1-1 College Hockey America).
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
First Published January 24, 2014 9:56 PM