NEVILLE TWP, Pa. — They don’t ask how, they just ask how many. And on Saturday night at 84 Lumber Arena, the Robert Morris Colonials managed one more than the visiting American International Yellow Jackets with a 4-3 victory that saw freshman forward Matthew Graham lead the way with a pair of goals, including a third-period game-winner.
The win capped off a weekend sweep for the Colonials, who moved into second place in the Atlantic Hockey standings as they enter their second-half bye week. It will be a well-earned rest coming off an emotional win in the Three Rivers Classic and then meeting the challenge of refocusing on the task at hand against AIC — something that had been something of an issue the past few seasons.
“I don’t know if it was the fact that it was the first time at home,” Schooley said when asked the difference this time around. “We hadn’t been at home after a Three Rivers Classic. Maybe our guys learned a lesson. Maybe it’s a new group of guys that wouldn’t accept anything other than getting out of here with a win.”
GRAHAM STANDS OUT
With 10 freshmen on the roster and six of them listed at forward, it was inevitable that at least one would get a chance at some time in the top six. Graham has gotten that opportunity for a good stretch of the season, and Schooley’s patience in that area was rewarded on Saturday.
First, Graham doubled the lead with his fourth goal of the season just moments after an Eric Israel power-play goal in the second.
Graham’s second goal at 11:17 of the third was an insurance marker that turned into a game-winner. Graham took a feed from fellow freshman Daniel Mantenuto and buried it for his fifth goal of the season. In both Graham’s goals, he demonstrated a skill he’d been using all season, but had not always been rewarded for — a sense of when to make his way to the net.
LEAKY DEFENSE OR PESKY JACKETS?
Every time Robert Morris seemed to be poised to push the advantage in a game the Colonials never trailed, AIC was right there to make a game of it again.
When freshman Luke Lynch got the Colonials off and running in the first period with his goal at 9:06, taking a feed from Brandon Watt and burying it past Yellow Jackets netminder Alex Murray, the Jackets answered. Just 2:50 into the second frame, Joel Kocur cut to the middle of the slot and beat Colonials goaltender Francis Marotte with a wrist shot to knot the score at one.
Even after Israel’s power-play goal and Graham’s first gave RMU a two-goal lead late in the second period, the Yellow Jackets would not go quietly into the dressing room, as Swedish-born freshman forward Hugo Reinhardt beat Marotte with just 15 seconds remaining in the frame.
It was a moment where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, which was something that the three Yellow Jacket goals had in common, unique circumstances, including a third goal in the waning moments that seemed to bounce or deflect several times before making itss way past Marotte. Despite the three goals against, Schooley was satisfied with his team’s defensive performance overall.
“We got beat off the wall on the first goal and on the second, it was not a good play by a whole bunch of people who were trying to do too much late in the period,” Schooley said. “It was the combination of a lot of stuff not to do in the last minute of a period, and it gave them a little life.”
FOCUS ON FOUR POINTS
It was Israel’s power play goal that put the Colonials back in the driver’s seat midway through the second, breaking a 1-1 tie and giving RMU a lead it would not relinquish. It was Israel’s third point and second goal of the weekend, as he continued his strong season that has seen him become one of the highest-scoring defensemen in the country.
Israel was just one of many returning players that had been reminding the 10 freshman on the roster about what the objective was this weekend following the tournament win. To keep the eye on the prize for the Colonials means to pick up every possible point they can in conference play.
“Our mindset was on the four points this weekend,” Israel said. “If you look at the standings in Atlantic Hockey, it’s so tight. The top tier are all within one or two points.”
Lynch’s goal was his third of the season. He leads the team’s freshmen with 11 points. Graham has eight and Mantenuto has seven.
Since returning from injury Dec. 29 against Ferris State, Watt has a goal and two assists and points in three straight games.
Captain Rob Mann (lower body) missed his second straight game. Freshman forward Jacob Coleman (concussion) missed his third straight game.
The win set up a potential first place showdown for the Colonials when they return to action Jan. 20 and 21, when they take host Air Force with a lot riding on the line.
“We’re set up for a really big weekend against Air Force,” Schooley said. “We’re both 13-6-3, they’re ahead of us in the standings and have some games in hand which they’ll make up next weekend against Canisius which will be a big series for them. We’ll see where we fall after the weekend.”