NEVILLE TWP, Pa. — Gabe Valenzuela would simply not be denied.
The RIT forward watched a potential game winning goal in overtime get blocked by Robert Morris defender Alex Robert Saturday.
Undeterred, he proceeded to slip a puck past RMU netminder Francis Marotte with 23 seconds left in the overtime period.
The 2-1 win gave the RIT Tigers a series split in a spirited, hard-fought contest that could have gone either way.
“It was a really good hockey game,” RMU head coach Derek Schooley said. “Both teams played hard, both teams left it on the line and gave it everything they had. They made one more play tonight.”
The Colonials matched the Tigers in terms of battle level and out-shot their opponent for a second straight night. However, they were their own worst enemy one too many times, as evidenced by six trips to the penalty box that sabotaged their momentum at inopportune moments in all three periods and in overtime.
“We have to stay out of the penalty box,” Schooley continued. “It took our momentum away a little bit in the second period and then we took a penalty in the offensive zone in overtime.”
FIVE-ON-FIVE GOALS NEEDED
Robert Morris found themselves trailing the Tigers early after a power play deflection by Abbot Girduckis opened the scoring just 2:29 into the first period. The Colonials spent the rest of the period and large stretches of the game creating chances, but were not able to get pucks behind Tigers goaltender Logan Drackett, who once again managed to make key saves when called upon.
At the other end of the rink, Marotte stopped 28 of 30 shots in another solid performance in a weekend that saw both his save percentage and goals against average return closer to the standard he’s set in his career to date.
Despite the goaltending and defensive performances and the fact they put up their highest shot output of the season to date, the Colonials are still looking for answers in scoring during five on five stretches of play.
“We have to generate some more five-on-five, Schooley said. “We have to generate more offense. In just our four games in Atlantic Hockey we’ve scored four goals, and you’re not going to be able to win if you don’t score more than that. It puts a lot of pressure on you and it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
BEST SECOND GAME YET
Robert Morris found themselves behind by a goal after forty minutes, but kept their intensity at a high level while frustration level low. The patience, hard work and poise paid off as they found a way to knot the score 4:30 into the third frame. For a second straight night, a freshman forward kicked off the scoring as forward Nick Lalonde put an end-board carom past a sprawled Drackett for his first career goal.
“We put a really good effort in tonight,” Lalonde said. “It’s kind of unfortunate that we got no points out of it. But it was good that we showed we could play back to back nights at a high level. RIT’s a good hockey team. We knew coming into the third we were going to have to win a period to put ourselves in a position to try to get some points and we did that, but we just couldn’t get it done at the end.”
Lalonde’s tying goal would be erased in overtime, but the effort put forth by the Colonials on a Saturday night following a point bearing Friday was the best one to date as they had lost the two previous second games by a combined score of 10 to two. And even though it was a two point weekend, the Colonials appear to be learning quickly what it takes to maintain and extend a strong effort over the course of 120 minutes.
The Colonials continue their homestand next weekend as they host the Niagara Purple Eagles next Friday and Saturday nights at RMU Island Sports Center.