RMU Hockey Comes Up One Goal Shy of Title, Settles for Tie to Finish Tough Weekend


NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – The Atlantic Hockey Conference tournament doesn’t start until March, but 84 Lumber Arena was the site of two playoff-style games this weekend as first-place Robert Morris hosted second-place Canisius.

Even though they were at the end of a challenging six-game stretch against conference contenders, the 19th-ranked Colonials took three of a possible four points from the Golden Griffins, capped by a 1-1 tie Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd.

With David Friedmann’s first-period goal holding up for much of the evening, RMU (20-5-5, 17-3-4 AHC) grinded within two minutes of a weekend sweep of Canisius, which would’ve clinched a share of the regular-season conference championship with three weeks left.

Instead, Canisius’ Cody Freeman scored on a backdoor one-timer with 1:45 left in regulation, forcing overtime for the second consecutive night. RMU had the better opportunities in sudden death – including Greg Gibson’s right-circle bid for back-to-back game-winners and a goalmouth scramble in the final minute – but the Colonials would have to settle for extending their unbeaten streak to eight games (7-0-1).

“I thought we were going to get that last one,” said RMU head coach Derek Schooley. “It was a good, interesting hockey game, I thought. We had pucks bouncing around the crease…the fans were into it.

“We gave up two goals this weekend and only got three points. That tells you how tough this series was.”

In retrospect, RMU can appreciate what it did in three consecutive weekends, sweeping both Holy Cross and Air Force on the road and earning a win and a tie against one of their main rivals for the Atlantic Hockey crown on home ice.

“It was a hard-fought, physical series between two good hockey teams,” said head coach Derek Schooley of the twin battles against Canisius. “We were tired, but I thought we showed a tremendous amount of guts. This was an emotional six-game stretch and we went 5-0-1. That’s pretty good.”

These were the first games between the two programs since last year’s AHC championship game, which Robert Morris won 7-4 for its first postseason title. This weekend wasn’t nearly as wide open, as the teams were either tied or separated by a single goal for every second of the series.

At least one Colonial thinks the dynamic between the two teams has escalated to a full-fledged feud, and it was difficult to argue after a penalty-filled game that burned with intensity.

“I think (Canisius) is probably our clear-cut rival in the (conference),” Friedmann said. “We just don’t like them and I don’t think they like us very much…that’s the gist of it. It’s going to be a playoff-type atmosphere when we play them.”

With the Colonials’ powerful offense restrained – they had scored 30 goals in six games prior to the weekend – stars arose on the defensive side of the game instead. Junior goalie Terry Shafer set a season high with 44 saves and RMU blocked 26 shots as they stifled a shifty Canisius squad for the second straight night.

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“Games like those are fun to play in,” said sophomore defenseman John Rey. “It was definitely a highly-intense game, both in the play on the ice and in what was at stake. I thought we did a good job over the weekend holding them off.”

The Colonials’ penalty-kill unit put together another perfect series. After extinguishing all 10 Air Force power plays last weekend, RMU killed all eight Canisius advantages – including a 6-for-6 performance Saturday.

“It’s a testament to the guys being willing to bear down and sacrifice,” Rey said. “The (penalty-killing) was a big part of the tie tonight. If they just give up one, we lose.”

After surviving four Canisius power plays in the second period and one more in middle of the third, the Colonials were nearly to the finish line when a coverage mistake cost them the lead. After Nolan Sheeran’s backhand was stopped, Braeden Rigney flung a pass from the left corner on the tape of Freeman, who banged it in while unattended at the right post.

In the immediate aftermath, Friedmann pointed to the inability to get a second goal as the culprit for not closing out Canisius (12-9-7, 11-5-6 AHC).

“We didn’t play badly, but we didn’t push the pace too much when we had the lead,” the junior said. “It happens sometimes…it’s human nature. It’s been a tough stretch, but I thought we kind of sat back.”

There was more emotion from both teams Saturday than there was Friday, and the first period demonstrated that nicely. Every check had a little extra force and there was plenty of animated talking between whistles.

RMU took the early advantage on this heated evening, when an offensive-zone faceoff win led directly to a goal. Friedmann controlled the draw and the right circle and skated to the low slot as Brady Ferguson fired a quick wrister. Turner stopped the shot, but Friedmann was there to ram in the rebound at 8:05, his 10th of the season.

“I just went to the net with my stick on the ice and Brady threw it on net,” said Friedmann on his first goal in eight games.

With five minutes to go in the first, Canisius’ Mitch McCrank was punished for a high hit on Colonials defenseman Tyson Wilson. McCrank was sent to the dressing room with a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head, but the Colonials couldn’t capitalize on the lengthy advantage.

The penalty pendulum swung dramatically the other way in the second period, as RMU was called for five minors – four of which led to Canisius power plays. Nevertheless, despite playing eight of the first 13 ½ minutes shorthanded, the Colonials didn’t let the Golden Griffins break through their four-man penalty-killing formation.

“Our penalty kill was outstanding for how much they had to work,” Schooley said.

Shafer was key as well, making 17 saves in the period and deflecting rebounds away from danger when possible. His finest stop came on Canisius defenseman Chris Rumble, who had an open slap shot from just above the circles.

“Lost in the shuffle was Terry,” Schooley said. “He was extremely solid. I felt bad that we didn’t get him the win.”

One thing the tie did accomplish: RMU is guaranteed to finish in the top four for the first time in five Atlantic Hockey seasons. Because of that, the Colonials will start its postseason title defense with a second-round series at 84 Lumber Arena on the second weekend of March.

After playing six consecutive weeks, the Colonials will enjoy their first break since the holidays. RMU won’t again see live action until traveling to RIT for a two-game series Feb. 20-21.

“Perfect time for a bye,” Schooley said. “I told the guys I didn’t want to see them at the rink Monday. We’ll practice after that and get ready for RIT.”

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