Dalton Izyk’s freshman season at Robert Morris hasn’t exactly gone according to script, but the greenhorn goaltender doesn’t really mind anymore. All’s well that ends well, right?
During his first game, on Oct. 12 against Lake Superior State, Izyk moved to the post and felt his ankle pop. He would miss six weeks with a high ankle sprain, and his Colonials would start the season 2-12-2.
Still, Izyk calls the injury “a blessing in disguise.”
“It wasn’t the best start, I guess,” he said with a laugh. “But I believe it definitely helped make me stronger. I got to see college hockey up close, and I got to learn and watch other teams so that I was well-prepared.”
By the time Izyk was healthy again, sophomore goaltender Terry Shafer had locked down the starting job. The Colonials tore through the back half of the season, going 11-4-3 in the final two months of the regular season.
But on March 9, Izyk was thrust into action after Shafer injured his right leg in the second period of the decisive third game against Army in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey Association tournament.
The series — and Robert Morris’ season — rested on the pads of a freshman backup who had yet to register a win in his five career appearances.
The Colonials, trailing 1-0 when Shafer left, rallied and scored three consecutive goals to gain a quarterfinal rematch against Connecticut, who had swept Robert Morris in two games last March.
When the Colonials arrived in Storrs, Conn., last week, head coach Derek Schooley gave Izyk the start.
Izyk earned a 3-0 shutout — his first — Friday night and held on for another win, 3-2, Saturday to clinch Robert Morris’ first semifinal berth in its fourth Atlantic Hockey season.
Izyk stopped 69 of 71 shots in the series sweep and earned Atlantic Hockey goaltender of the week honors, but he was quick to credit his defense for keeping his goal crease clean and his lines of sight clear.
“I’m sure everyone has a certain mindset that this is not our main goalie, so let’s pick it up a little bit,” Izyk said.
Izyk and the fifth-seeded Colonials are bound for Rochester, N.Y., this weekend, where they will face off against No. 6 seed Niagara in the single-elimination semifinal Friday.
The winner will advance to Saturday’s final to meet the winner of the other semifinal between No. 1 seed Mercyhurst and No. 7 seed Canisius with an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line.
It’s a homecoming for Izyk, who grew up in Oswego, N.Y., an hour outside of Rochester. He’ll have a plenty of family and friends in the stands. Two weeks ago, they would never have imagined he would be the one between the pipes for Robert Morris.
“If I am lucky enough to start, it’ll be very nice to play in front of my family again for the first time in a couple years,” said Izyk, who spent the past two seasons with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League.
Shafer’s status remains uncertain, but Izyk is approaching the weekend as if he will start. And Shafer remains his strongest supporter.
“Terry is great,” Izyk said. “He comes up to me during scouting reports just to give me a heads-up about what happened last year and what to look for, what tendencies shooters have that he remembered. He’s been the best person to talk to about that.”
The goalies knew each other long before they ever battled for the starting job.
Three years ago, Izyk recalled, they were on separate ends of the ice when Izyk’s Green Mountain Glades and Shafer’s Rochester Stars faced off in Eastern Junior Hockey League play.
And, as Robert Morris fights for an NCAA tournament berth this weekend, Izyk believes the goaltender rotation is the least of the Colonials’ concerns.
“I don’t think it matters who you put in net,” Izyk said. “If the team keeps playing the way we have been, it’s going to be a good outcome.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.