NEVILLE TWP, Pa. — It took a little time for the Robert Morris Colonials to get to their game Friday night during Game 1 of their Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series with the visiting Holy Cross Crusaders. But once they started clicking, they seemingly didn’t stop, as they lit the lamp with rapid succession en route to a 6-3 victory to take 1-0 series lead. Sophomore Alex Tonge led the way with two goals while goaltender Francis Marotte stopped 16 of 19 shots to collect his first career postseason victory.
“We definitely wanted to come out harder than we did in the first,” Tonge said. “We were a little shaky and there were some nerves going on there. We had some bounces that weren’t going in for us in the second period and in the third, they did.”
Both teams certainly showed some rust in the early stages, as could be expected after a weekend off. Scoring chances were at a premium in the first period and the Crusaders held a 7-4 shot advantage at the end of 20 minutes, though neither team looked particularly strong.
“I think both teams were trying to find their game,” Colonials head coach Derek Schooley said. “It’s hard to get back into it after a weekend off. I thought they pinned us in [our end] at times but there weren’t an awful lot of chances either way.”
But despite the lack of urgency in the early going, Holy Cross managed to strike first when forward Mike Barrett tipped a T.J. Moore shot that found its way past Marotte at 17:35 of the first period on the power play. And though the early deficit was not a tall order to overcome, it did represent a bit of motivation for the Colonials to find their game as soon as possible.
“They got the power play goal on a tip and we needed to get going,” Schooley said.
After the intermission, Robert Morris came out with passion and purpose, and started taking control, tilting the ice for much of the final two periods. Tonge buried the equalizer on the power play at 12:36 of the second frame when he took a pass from Daniel Leavens and put it upstairs past Crusaders netminder Paul Berrafato. Tonge’s goal got his team rolling, and they carried the momentum into the third period.
Spencer Dorowicz put the Colonials in the lead less than two minutes into the action with his fourth goal of the season. After that, two penalty kills seemed to take the wind out of the Crusaders’ sails. The first happened on a Holy Cross power play when forward Brady Ferguson took a puck in the neutral zone all the way to the net on a breakaway that he buried with authority at 2:32. His goal was then followed by a precarious situation that found RMU having to kill off a 5-on-3 penalty kill for a minute, but the Colonials were perfect in their execution.
“We worked on it throughout the week, what they were trying to do and we watched video,” Schooley said. “I thought the guys that were on the ice did a good job of keeping them to the outside and not allowing them to roll and run the plays they wanted to.”
Just a few moments later, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was provided by forward Daniel Mantenuto who put the Colonials up by a 4-1 margin.
“It was kind of a bouncing puck,” Mantenuto said. “It was up in the air, I think it hit Tonge in the head and then it ended up right on Lynch’s stick and he shot and the rebound came right to me and had a wide open net. It’s pretty special, you always want to contribute anyway you can. All the seniors and juniors have been great to us. They basically tell us it’s not like junior [hockey], it’s a weekend series and it’s three games and your season can be over like that. They said don’t take anything for granted and play hard.”
Tonge’s second goal and a later marker from Kyle Horsman finished out the RMU scoring on the night, capping off the six-goal onslaught.
PLENTY OF WORK LEFT
For as good as the final two periods went for RMU, they could have gone a little bit better. The Crusaders managed to score two more times before the final buzzer, both goals coming on plays that the Colonials could have prevented with a little more hustle. It was a good time to learn the lesson as they had amassed an insurmountable lead, and will need to apply that lesson to Saturday night’s contest against a Holy Cross team that will come out with much more determination.
“I thought we got a little loose at the end,” Schooley said. “We got the 5-1 lead and we got loose at the end on the power play and gave up a shorthanded breakaway and then we got loose on a guy at the front of our net. I cautioned our guys not to get too loose. We need to enjoy it now, but once we come back tomorrow it’s all business and our job is to try and end the series.
“The hardest thing to do is end a team’s season and the only thing that we’ve guaranteed is that there could be a game Sunday and we don’t want to play that. The pressure is on them, it’s do or die so you know they’re going to come out hard and with passion and it’s a good hockey team with a lot of good hockey players and we need to make sure that we do what we do best and keep them pinned in their end.”