NEVILLE TWP., Pa. — The effort was gritty and the battles were intense on Saturday night. And at the end of 60 minutes of playoff hockey, the Robert Morris Colonials were both the better team both the ice and the scoreboard once again as they eliminated the Holy Cross Crusaders with a 3-2 win and series sweep.
Freshman forward Nick Lalonde’s goal during a wild goalmouth scramble at 13:45 of the the third period proved to be the game-winner as the Colonials advanced to the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals next weekend.
“It was an absolute scramble in front,” Lalonde said “I think their goalie made an unbelievable save on [Justin] Addamo and then it came out to [Luke] Lynch and their guy made a sliding block and I think we all knew it was just sitting in the crease there and we all just went for it and I was just fortunate to knock it in.”
The Crusaders got on the scoreboard first with a Ryan Liebold’s goal from close range coming 5:07 into the opening frame. It wase the only lead Holy Cross enjoyed on the weekend as an improved defense coupled with key saves from Francis Marotte kept the Colonials in command for large stretches of the game and weekend.
“It was very hard fought on both sides,” defenseman Alex Robert said. “Everything’s coming together at the end for us and things are jelling. We just have to continue to keep on what we’re doing. We all know we have a tremendous group of freshman here and they can all play at this level. Yesterday, when we were out a couple of key defensemen they stepped up and I was extremely proud to see those guys develop their game and get their first taste of playoffs and the forwards have been lighting it up all year for us. I’m very proud of them.”
Robert Morris once again dominated the second frame as the Colonials out-shot the Crusaders by a 17-10 margin while Holy Cross netminder Tommy Nixon came up with huge saves to keep his team in a position to win. However, two pucks managed to get past him, the first of which came at 4:11 of the period when senior forward Alex Tonge was awarded a penalty shot which he capitalized on with a patient move to draw Nixon out of position to tie the score. Daniel Mantenuto gave the Colonials a 2-1 lead minutes later as he shot hard and low from the top of the circles.
Keven Darrar tied the game with a wrister from the right circle at 4;49 of the third frame, but the Crusaders weren’t able to find any more offense the rest of the way as the Colonials kept a steady presence on the back line, thwarting any momentum gain from their opponent.
“We’re not really young guys anymore,” Lalonde said. “Most of us have 30 plus games under our belt and I think it shows that if we play with confidence we can play with anyone. We’re trying to play the game the right way, that’s the only way you can do it in the playoffs if you’re going to win games. We knew we didn’t play our best in the first period but I thought we absolutely came out and dominated the second period and it carried over.”
With the sweep, the Colonials find themselves scoreboard watching on Sunday as they await their next opponent in a quarterfinal series that will find them on the road at either Bentley University or at Colorado Springs, Colorado to take on Air Force. They’ll go into the series with the confidence gained not only in the weekend sweep of Holy Cross, but with the swagger a five game points streak brings as they’ve saved the best hockey of their season for the end.
“I thought our second period may have been our best period of the year,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “It was contagious. We were advancing pucks, we were competing hard down low, we were physical and we were getting pucks to the net. I really liked our third period too minus the goal that we gave up. We’re positive, we’re working hard and we’re doing the little things we need to do to be successful and we need to continue to do that because it’s going to get harder as you continue to advance, every play matters.”