RMU Hockey Earns Seventh Straight Win, Moves to Verge of Regular-Season Title


Robert Morris junior center Greg Gibson (center) skates after a pass in a game earlier this season at 84 Lumber Arena. The Colonials tied a program record with their 20th win of the season. (Credit: Jason Cohn/RMU Athletics)

NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – It’s all starting to feel familiar for the Robert Morris University men’s hockey team.

One year after going on a second-half tear to turn their fortunes around, the 19th-ranked Colonials are once again surging through the cold-weather months, collecting their seventh consecutive victory with a 2-1 overtime decision over conference rival Canisius on Friday night.

Junior center Greg Gibson scored the game-winning goal with 31 seconds to go in sudden death, extending the longest winning streak in program history. By prevailing in this Atlantic Hockey showdown at 84 Lumber Arena, first-place RMU (20-5-4, 17-3-3 AHC) stretched its lead at the top of the conference to 10 points with five games to play.

“We found a way to get the job done,” said head coach Derek Schooley. “It wasn’t textbook, but we made a play at the end.”

The night could’ve gone the other way moments before Gibson’s winner, as Canisius’ Shane Conacher hit the post on a counterattack rush with just over a minute to go in overtime. It was the only time RMU sophomore goalie Dalton Izyk needed metallic assistance, as he was strong throughout in a 29-save performance.

Not long after that close call, Gibson dished to linemate Jeff Jones while bursting in over the offensive blue line. Jones, a right-handed shooter playing the left wing, niftily dragged the puck around a Canisius defenseman and gave the puck back to Gibson in the slot.

Gibson got all of the ensuing one-timer, beating Canisius netminder Keegan Asmundson high to the glove side. For the second time in three games and the third time this season, the Colonials were overtime winners.

“The ‘D’ stepped up and I made a little move there,” said Jones, playing his fourth game with Gibson and Brandon Denham in the place of the injured Matt Cope. “I saw (Gibson) stop in front of the net so I gave it back to him. Instincts took over there.

“I feel like when we get into the pressure situations, we step up. We have a lot of guys who like those situations.”

The sudden victory meant that RMU tied its program record for wins in a season; the Colonials won 20 games two years ago, followed by 19 more in their breakthrough 2013-14 campaign.

This season, they’ve led the conference the whole way, and now they’re on the verge of their first regular-season league crown in 11 years of Division I hockey.

“We kept chipping away and came out on top,” Gibson said. “It does get frustrating at times, but I think we had a lot of confidence on the bench. You gotta be a little bit cocky and know you’re going to get it done.”

Defenseman Tyson Wilson also scored for Robert Morris, which improved to 15-0-1 when leading after two periods and 11-0-3 in the first game of a weekend series. This was the first meeting between the two programs since last March 22, when the Colonials downed Canisius 7-4 in the Atlantic Hockey championship game to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Despite that history, Jones said facing the Golden Griffins again didn’t motivate the Colonials more than usual.

“It’s a new season,” said the senior winger. “We put the past in the past.”

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The Colonials had a 1-0 advantage entering Friday’s third period, but Canisius junior Ralph Cuddemi tied the game with 17:08 to play in regulation, poking the rebound of Ryan Schmelzer’s shot just barely over the goal line.

Play was tight from there until the end of the third, as it was for most of the night. The pace was deliberate as the top two teams in Atlantic Hockey protected the middle of the ice and blocked a combined 44 shots – 24 by RMU.

“There really wasn’t a lot going on in the game, it was like both teams were trying to figure each other out,” Schooley said. “They clogged the lanes up and didn’t give our guys many chances. Our team can work through a lot of adversity, and that was adversity tonight.”

The Colonials were outshot 9-8 in the opening period, but the early story was their shot-blocking prowess. RMU entered the game with the most blocked shots per game in Division I, a mark further boosted by 13 blocks in the opening 20 minutes.

“There wasn’t a lot of flow to (the game),” Jones said. “It was a hard night to get going, but they’re a good defensive team like we are.”

Izyk was sharp in the first, denying a handful of rush chances generated by the speedy Canisius forwards. The visitors also seemed intent on crowding the front of the RMU net, putting the pressure on Izyk to see around bodies. He responded with his 11th win in 15 starts.

Robert Morris turned it up in the second, netting the first goal while also putting the clamps on Canisius. The Colonials earned three power plays in the frame, with Wilson netting his third goal in three games after a faceoff win by Zac Lynch.

Taking a short bump from Wydo, Wilson curled into the right circle and gunned a low wrister that squeezed under Asmundson’s right leg at 3:55. Lynch’s secondary assist extended his scoring streak to seven, during which he has 17 points (7g, 10a). Wydo’s helper boosted his team-leading point total to 39 (18g, 21a).

Scott Jacklin had RMU’s best opportunity to make it 2-0 on another power-play chance late in the period, splitting the Canisius defense on the rush, but Asmundson denied his backhand deke. Nonetheless, the Colonials carried a 1-0 lead into the third after limiting the Golden Griffins to just a couple decent looks at the net in the second.

The two teams square off again at 7 p.m. Saturday on Neville Island, with the first 750 fans receiving a replica 2014 Atlantic Hockey championship ring courtesy of Dick’s Sporting Goods. With another victory over Canisius, combined with favorable results on the out-of-town scoreboard, RMU can clinch at least a share of the AHC regular-season title.

“We’ve taken things game by game all year,” Schooley said. “We’re not going to worry about what we can accomplish tomorrow. We just want to play a better hockey game and keep looking forward.”

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