NEVILLE TWP., PA-The rust from a 19 day layoff was removed in a big way for The Robert Morris Colonials on Friday night as they moved one game closer to reaching the Atlantic Hockey Association semi finals, delivering a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the red hot Niagara Purple Eagles. Sophomore forward Darcy Walsh provided the game winner 4:42 into the extra frame. With play coming into the Niagara end, Robert Morris forward Cameron Hebert stretched out in desperation along the left wing boards to move the puck over a defender’s stick to Walsh who took the puck in stride where he skated in all alone and placed the game winner out of reach of starting Niagara netminder Chad Veltri.
“Cameron made an unbelievable play to get to the puck,” Walsh said. “But I think when it landed flat on the ice there was a little bit of luck involved. My instincts just took over.”
The Purple Eagles took advantage of the rusty start from their opponents, bolting out to a 8-4 shot advantage in the early minutes and a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard courtesy of a goal from forward Eric Cooley. Following the goal, Robert Morris seemed to find their legs a little more each shift and wound up in total takeover mode to start the second frame as Aidan Spellacy evened the score at one with a tip in on a power play just eleven seconds in.
“Aidan works his rear end off,” Schooley said. “He just comes to work every day. He and Nick Prkusic drive the energy bus for us. He had a good tip on his goal, he does a good job on faceoffs and killing penalties. He just does everything that we need him to do.
The Colonials peppered Veltri in the second frame and owned a great deal of the puck possession. Forward Jordan Timmons, returning to the lineup for the first time in over two months, reconnected with his scoring touch at 9:20 when he shot a loose puck in the slot past Veltri to give Robert Morris a short lived 2-1 lead. But the Eagles managed to turn momentum in the final five minutes of the second frame and throughout the third period following a power play goal from Justin Kendall with less than five minutes remaining in the second period.
“We knew we’d be rusty,” “We wanted to play with pace and we wanted to get going,” Colonials head coach Derek Schooley said. “I thought we did a good job rebounding in the second period. We were a little bit fatigued and that was the fact of not playing for 19 days. But I thought we were pretty good in overtime, we didn’t give them much.”
Despite the overtime effort and game one victory, the Colonials will have to come up with perhaps their best performances of the year to put away a determined Niagara team.
“We have to come out with a better start and we have to be a bit more physical,” Walsh said. “We’ve got to stay engaged for the whole 60 minutes and we need to remember that it’s a good squad over on the other side. The hardest game is to put someone’s season away. They’re going to be coming out firing and we’re going to have to weather that storm.”
In the Robert Morris net, freshman Noah West stopped 23 of 25 Niagara shots in collecting his first career postseason victory. The Colonials will face Niagara in game two on Saturday night at the Island Sports Center with puck drop scheduled for 7:05 pm.