Robert Morris’ first trip to the NCAA men’s hockey tournament was short, but it was memorable.
Despite falling behind 4-0 to No. 1 seed Minnesota, the tenacious Colonials kept the outcome in doubt until late in the Gophers’ 7-3 first-round victory Saturday evening at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Cody Wydo, Zac Lynch and David Friedman netted goals for RMU, which had its five-game postseason win streak snapped. The Colonials (19-18-3) closed to within two on a pair of occasions, but Nate Condon’s empty-netter with 1:48 left ended all suspense and sent Minnesota to Sunday’s West Regional final.
Condon had two goals and an assist, one of five Gophers to record multiple points. The tournament’s overall top seed outshot Robert Morris 50-25, but Colonials freshman netminder Dalton Izyk (41 saves) was superb in keeping his team alive.
Hudson Fasching’s power-play goal with 5:38 to play seemingly clinched the win for Minnesota (26-6-6), making it 5-2 in favor of the de facto home team. However, just 25 seconds later, Friedman chipped the rebound of Colin South’s shot through Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox.
RMU coach Derek Schooley elected to pull Izyk during a late power play to create a two-man advantage, but his Colonials couldn’t draw any closer before Condon’s shorthanded dagger from center ice.
Still, the impressive showing wrapped up a storybook season for RMU, which rallied from a 2-12-2 start to its season to collect 17 wins over the past three months. The Colonials went 6-1 in the Atlantic Hockey Association tournament to earn an automatic NCAA berth, the program’s first in 10 seasons.
RMU entered the game with one of the most potent offenses in the country, and the top forward line of Wydo, Lynch and Scott Jacklin proved itself against one of Division I’s best teams. The trio combined for two goals and four assists.
The Colonials didn’t waste any time getting into the game, as they forced Minnesota into two early penalties in the first period. However, RMU couldn’t convert on either opportunity despite a couple good looks at the net.
Minnesota gradually gained strength as the first frame went along, culminating in Condon’s nifty wrister through Izyk’s legs at 16:13. Michael Brodzinski, who earned the lone assist on Condon’s tally, hammered a one-timer home at 17:50 to make it 2-0.
Just when it looked like RMU might escape into the intermission down two, Justin Kloos deposited the rebound of Condon’s drive with just 17 seconds left on the clock. It was a tough finish to an otherwise strong period from Izyk, who stopped 13 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
The Colonials appeared poised to get on the scoreboard several minutes into the second when Wydo centered to Jacklin in the slot, but Jacklin fanned on the shot. Moments later, Wydo hit the post after taking Lynch’s deft pass.
Those near-misses hurt even more when Kyle Rau stuffed in a loose puck at 8:12 to put Minnesota up by four, but Lynch and Wydo teamed up to create RMU’s first NCAA tournament goal five minutes later.
After a Minnesota turnover in the neutral zone, Jacklin pushed the puck up ice to Lynch, who drew the defense to the middle before dishing off to Wydo. The Hober Baker Award finalist buried his 65th collegiate goal with a backhander from the lip of the crease, his 31st of the season.
RMU’s top-line duo hooked up in reverse order with 44 seconds left in the second. Following a series of high-quality saves by Izyk, Wydo and Lynch skated in on a 2-on-1 rush, taking advantage of the aggressive Gophers defense. Lynch lassoed Wydo’s pass and lifted a wrister over Wilcox’s glove to draw the underdogs within two.