Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Mercyhurst pushes past RMU for CHA title

Kennedy Blair tracks the puck for Mercyhurst. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The 2017-18 season for Robert Morris women’s hockey came down to a single, winner-take-all game for the 2018 CHA Tournament championship and a berth to the NCAA Tournament against Mercyhurst on Saturday.

The nature of that tournament means that almost anything can happen, and with a three-goal outburst in the second period, Mercyhurst upset the No. 9 Colonials, ending Robert Morris’ season.

In the second period, the Lakers were boosted by their youth. Alexa Vasko scored her first career goal as part of a three-point outing and Rachel Marmen scored her second career goal.

Finnish Olympian Emma Nuutinen scored a highly contested goal in the first period and then added on in the second with a dazzler. Nuutinen drove to the net one-on-one with first-year Robert Morris defender Emily Curlett, went through Curlett’s legs and placed a backhander over a sprawling Elijah Milne-Price to give Mercyhurst the eventual game-winner.

The Colonials opened the scoring at 6:34 of the first period on a goal by Curlett on the power play. Brittany Howard responded a minute after Nuutinen got on the board with a power-play goal of her own to give Robert Morris a 2-1 lead after one period.

The Colonials and Lakers exchanged power-play opportunities in the third, but the goaltenders exchanged save after save until Jennifer MacAskill took advantage of a giveaway at the blueline, scoring on a 2-on-1.

Jessica Gazzola added a power-play goal to make things 5-3, but the Colonials could not recover from the advantage Mercyhurst build in the second frame.

“We’re so proud of our team, of the players,” head coach Paul Colontino explained. “The season as a whole, we just don’t define our season on one game. At this moment in life, yes, this one game is it, and it’s all that matters. I know in a week, a month, whatever it takes and you’re able to take a good look at the season and see how our team developed in terms of chemistry, culture, and the numbers, the wins, those kinds of things, it’s a successful season, without a doubt.”

A SEASON TO REMEMBER

Although the Colonials dropped the finale to the Lakers, the team finished the season 21-8-4, re-wrote the record book in several statistical categories, and, as Paul Colontino puts it, raised the bar even further.

Defenders made strides so large that statistical categories beyond points were required to be recognized. 2016-17 emergency goaltender Milne-Price won 20 games in her senior season after seeing action in four total games in the previous three. Her season included two separate two-plus-game shutout streaks, and breaking Olympian Brianne McLaughlin’s decade-old record. Howard cemented her legacy as the most dynamic forward that the club has ever seen, finishing her career with 79 goals and 181 points. Through it all, the redshirt senior and her teammates always credited each other with their individual accolades.

As a senior class, the team compiled a 71-48-20 record, won consecutive CHA regular season championships, and took home the title as well as the clubs first NCAA appearance. The team also added the notoriety of having the most goals in a single season, happening in 2017-18.

“I think (associated head coach Logan Bittle) was the one that said after the game that one game doesn’t define our season,” senior captain Amanda Pantaleo said. “Every year we face adversity. We won the regular season championship and the final game didn’t go our way.”

ALL-TOURNEY

Howard was the lone Robert Morris representative on the all-tournament team. Goaltender Kennedy Blair, Marmen and Nuutinen were selected for Mercyhurst. Syracuse’s Brooke Avery and Megan Quinn were also chose.

HIGHLIGHTS

THE ROAD AHEAD

The Colonials cannot finish in the top eight in the PairWise rankings, and thus will not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Mercyhurst will receiving its seeding on Sunday, after the other conferences complete their tournaments.

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