RMU Hockey Caps Landmark Regular Season With Senior Night Thriller


Senior Scott Jacklin handles the puck near the RMU bench. The Colonials won 2-1 on Senior Night to conclude their best regular season ever. (Photo: Jason Cohn)

NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – The regular season has come to a close for the Robert Morris University men’s hockey team, but excuse the Colonials if they feel like the playoffs have been going on for a while.

In the latest white-knuckle finish for the Atlantic Hockey Conference regular-season champions, Greg Gibson’s third-period power-play goal held up as the game-winner, nudging 20th-ranked RMU past feisty Niagara 2-1 at 84 Lumber Arena.

Saturday marked the eighth game in RMU’s past 10 that was decided by one goal, and the ninth in that stretch that was up for grabs until the final buzzer. After dropping their second straight one-goal game Friday at Niagara, the Colonials (22-7-5, 19-5-4 AHC) rebounded in front of a sellout home crowd and will enter the playoffs on a 9-2-1 run.

“You’d like it to be a little bit easier, but it is what it is,” head coach Derek Schooley said with a smile. “That’s why we’re the champions, because we were able to get the job done down the stretch.”

Moreover, RMU raised its single-season wins record once again, two clear of the previous high of 20 set in 2012-13. The Colonials will be hunting for more once their postseason starts with a best-of-three AHC quarterfinal series on home ice in two weeks.

“It’s a great feeling to give back to the fans for the support they’ve given us,” said winger Cody Wydo, one of four seniors acknowledged following the game for their contributions to the program. “We’ve been finding ways to win since the middle of last year. This was huge to come into the playoffs strong.”

A festive postgame scene featured Senior Night photo ops – Jeff Jones, Scott Jacklin, David Rigatti and Wydo were honored – and the presentation of the Atlantic Hockey regular-season trophy by commissioner Bob DeGregorio, but the Colonials had to earn every bit of their fun after being whistled for five penalties in the third period.

More from Robert Morris University

RMU killed off all of those, including a pair of two-man advantages for Niagara that added up to nearly three minutes. With the exception of a Keegan Harper shot off the crossbar during the first 5-on-3 situation, the Colonials didn’t give the Purple Eagles (5-25-4, 5-19-4 AHC) much at all in terms of open looks.

“We did a great job battling,” said sophomore goalie Dalton Izyk, who made 31 saves to improve to 13-4 on the season. “We showed how tough of a team we have in those situations. With the playoffs coming up, it’s good to see that we can defend like that.”

Not long after killing the first two-man advantage, RMU earned a power play of its own when junior center Gibson drew a crosschecking penalty at 6:23. Gibson then converted on that opportunity, taking a feed from Jacklin in the left circle and hammering a drive into the top-right corner of the net with five seconds left on the advantage.

Gibson’s 13th goal of the season was also his fifth in the past four games, and it coincided with his fresh placement between Wydo and Zac Lynch – RMU’s top two scorers – on the line chart.

“Gibson has played with a tremendous amount of energy,” Schooley said. “He’s cut down on his mental mistakes and he’s been flying. You can see it in the way he’s creating chances and getting shots. When you’re going that, it says a lot about how well you’ve been playing.”

Gibson tied with Lynch, David Friedmann and defenseman Tyson Wilson for the team lead in shots, with five apiece. The Colonials outshot Niagara 39-32 despite all the penalty trouble in the third period, which saw RMU go shorthanded three times after it took the lead.

“Our penalty kill did an outstanding job,” Schooley said. “It was put in some tough situations and got the job done. That tells you a lot about the character of this team. We did a very good job limiting them.”

A large part of that defensive effort can be traced back to blocked shots, as the Colonials collected 21 as a team. With Niagara blocking 20, RMU needed every last one to maintain its edge.

“That’s the way we play, we celebrate it,” Schooley said. RMU averages more than 18 blocks per game, tops in Division I hockey. “Our guys really embrace it. It’s contagious on our bench.”

Izyk became the first Colonials netminder to play on back-to-back nights when he got the start Saturday. He showed no signs of fatigue during a performance that was highlighted by a dazzling first-period save on Brock Edwards, with several other shorthanded stops in the third also standing out.

“Dalton was calm, he was solid,” Schooley said. “He did everything the right way tonight. He’s found ways to win games throughout his career. Our goaltending is in capable hands.”

The Colonials’ depth generated the game’s first goal at 7:55, when Spencer Dorowicz deflected Evan Moore’s right-point blast over Niagara goalie Jackson Teichroeb. It was the fourth goal of the season for the versatile freshman, and his first in 19 games.

“Dorowicz’s goal was huge for us to get the lead, but it was a great overall effort from everyone (tonight),” Wydo said. “I thought we outskated them and were physical,”

Gibson could’ve earned a couple of points in the first period, but Teichroeb denied both him and Lynch after Gibson set him up with a brilliant crossrink feed. Brandon Denham thought he extended the lead to 2-0 in the closing moments of the frame when he crashed the crease, until a video review led the officials to rule that he kicked the puck in.

Niagara remained tenacious in the second period, tying the game at 14:17 when Phillip Nasca redirected a left-wall pass by Brock Edwards into the net from close range. The Purple Eagles finished the regular season in last place, but nonetheless entered the night with a three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1).

After grinding out a precarious third period, the Colonials will now enjoy a first-round bye before hosting an AHC quarterfinal series March 13-15 against the lowest remaining seed left in the tournament.

Judging by how tight this weekend’s home-and-home series was, they wouldn’t be surprised if they see the Purple Eagles again.

“We were fortunate to come out with a split even though it’s not what we wanted going in,” Izyk said. “But this was playoff-style hockey, so it’s good to get that experience.”

Next: Can Pitt basketball still make the NCAAs?