RMU Hockey: Colonials Squander Early Lead But Escape With Overtime Victory


RMU junior Zac Lynch heads toward the opposing net in a game earlier this season. Lynch had the game-winning goal in a 5-4 overtime victory over Sacred Heart on Friday, Dec. 5 at 84 Lumber Arena. (Photo: Dave Hahn/RMU Athletics)

NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – The Robert Morris men’s hockey team took a bit of a detour Friday night at 84 Lumber Arena, but the Colonials still found their way to their intended destination.

Zac Lynch scored the game-winning goal 25 seconds into overtime, boosting No. 20 Robert Morris to a back-and-forth 5-4 victory over Atlantic Hockey foe Sacred Heart. The high-scoring Colonials (9-1-3, 7-1-3 AHC) led 2-0 after the first period and 4-3 in the third, but the feisty Pioneers refused to go quietly.

Lynch also had a deft assist on Cody Wydo’s go-ahead shorthanded goal with 7:40 remaining in regulation, capping a 2-on-1 rush in expert fashion. Nonetheless, Sacred Heart (5-7-2, 4-5-2 AHC) rallied for the second time, with Zach Sabatini snapping a sharp-angle shot into the twine 95 seconds after Wydo’s team-leading ninth goal of the season.

Before his overtime strike, Lynch nearly won it late in regulation when his left-wing wrister clanged off the crossbar. The junior didn’t miss in sudden death, though, taking a pass from the hustling Scott Jacklin and sliding the puck between the legs of Sacred Heart goalie Andrew Bodnarchuk.

Daniel Leavens, Jeff Jones and Brandon Denham also scored goals for the Colonials, who have gone to overtime in four of their past five games. Leavens, Wydo and Lynch each had a goal and an assist, while 10 RMU players recorded at least a point. Goalie Terry Shafer stopped 31 shots in the victory.

RMU’s nation-leading offense continued to click along, now with 51 goals in 13 games for an average of 3.92 per outing. On the other hand, the Colonials have now allowed three goals or more in each of their past four Friday games.

They’re 2-0-2 in those contests, but relying on their powerful attack isn’t something they want to do on a nightly basis.

“Good teams find a way to win when they don’t have their best game,” said RMU head coach Derek Schooley. “Great teams have the ability to look inside their game and really evaluate it. We have to be better for (Saturday).”

Denham said the Colonials saved their best play for last, which helped them survive a game that was up for grabs for the final 40 minutes.

“I don’t think we got to our game until late in the second period,” he said. “That’s how it goes, but we ended up finding a way to win and that’s what we have to do. We know that we have to play our game: low (number of) turnovers, and put the pucks in their zone. In the third we started to take it to them.”

At the start, the Colonials looked ready to play after their Thanksgiving off week, scoring twice in the opening period to take command.

David Friedmann got RMU going 5 1/2 minutes in when he scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone and burst into the attacking end. His feed to the right post was on the money to a breaking Leavens, who steered in his third goal of the season.

The Colonials’ fourth line went to work four minutes later, adding another goal on a pretty passing play. After Spencer Dorowicz and Jones started an RMU counterattack, David Rigatti zoomed around the net and found Jones at the left edge of the crease for his first goal of the season.

The Pioneers regained their footing on a pair of first-period power plays, but Terry Shafer was sharp to deny the handful of quality chances they generated. Sacred Heart finished with six advantages to the Colonials’ one.

“We had to take penalties because we turned the puck over,” Schooley said. “Give Sacred Heart a lot of credit. They pressed the issue and worked hard. They’re a good, talented hockey team.”

The Pioneers were awarded a lengthy two-man advantage at the start of the second period, eventually converting on Erlich Doerksen’s one-timer from the top of the left circle. Sacred Heart seemed rejuvenated by the power-play goal, leading to Sabatini’s tying tally from the right dot at 4:55, his first of two in the game.

The Colonials got an emotional lift by surviving another Pioneers power play midway through the second, but it didn’t last long. Ben Lake’s driving backhand shot gave Sacred Heart its third consecutive goal and its first lead of the night with 7:29 remaining before intermission.

“We had some spurts of good play early, but it wasn’t good hockey (in the second period),” Lynch said. “We had the lead and we have to be better playing with it.”

RMU responded to the challenge by earning its first power play about a minute later. The Colonials cashed in quickly, as Leavens worked the puck to the blue line for a blast by John Rey that Denham tipped into the roof of the net at 13:33.

“My job as a big guy is to be in front,” said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Denham. “I’m there to screen the goalie and tip pucks.”

Denham’s third goal of the season – and first in nine games – forged a tie entering the third period. The Colonials have outscored their opponents 21-7 in the final frame, so it’s no surprise they were comfortable in that situation.

“That’s what’s nice about how deep we are,” Lynch said. “We know we have a chance to win if it’s close in the third period or overtime.”

After their first overtime victory of the season, the Colonials will gun for three wins in a row Saturday night at the RMU Island Sports Center. Faceoff with Sacred Heart is set for 7:05.