Army had the game plan, the speed, and the greater effort, and at the end of 60 minutes, they had a road victory over the Robert Morris Colonials Friday night at the 84 Lumber Arena.
Sophomore forward Brendan McGuire’s third-period tally proved to be the game-winner, cementing an outstanding defensive effort that saw the Black Knights limit the high-powered Colonials offense to one late third-period goal and virtually no scoring chances from close range. The effort was aided by a solid performance by goaltender Parker Gahagen, who stopped 39 of 40 shots on the night.
“Defensively, we’ve been very strong since we came back from Christmas,” Army coach Brian Riley said. “There was a stretch there where we were trying to find goals for a while. This was a great effort against the top team in our league, and I liked how we handled it. We were never over excited or rattled, it was a great win.
“Robert Morris is an unbelievably quick team and they’re fantastic in transition, so you have to manage the puck well, and if they are going to transition, you’ve got to make sure it’s from their own end. Our forwards did a good job coming back because Robert Morris will kill you with odd man rushes if you don’t have numbers coming back.
The Black Knights came into the weekend riding a five-game unbeaten streak, and from the drop of the puck they were the better team. Army seemingly got to every loose puck first, and hit everything that moved in an opening 20 minutes that saw the Colonials rack up 16 shots, but almost none from the prime scoring areas.
Meanwhile, starting Colonials netminder Terry Shafer kept Army at bay with some great saves of his own. The game was scoreless heading into the second frame as the Knights attack intensified, spending great stretches in the Colonials end while racking up 14 shots, but the attention to their defensive game plan ramped up as well as they were able to take away passing and shooting lanes, and ensuring that Colonials puck carriers had as little time as possible.
The deadlock was broken at 7:04 of the second period when Army defenseman Blake Box’s shot from between the circles beat Shafer clean, giving the Knights a lead they would never lose. Throughout the remainder of the period, the Knights used active sticks and blocked shots at every turn to disrupt any sign of Colonials momentum.
However, the Colonials found themselves with a perfect moment to climb back into the contest to start the final period with a power play on fresh ice by virtue of Joe Kozlak’s roughing penalty and the end of the second period. The power play produced a great scoring chance from Spencer Dorowicz, who was robbed by Gahagen on his shot from the lower left circle.
The Colonials tilted the ice in the third frame, and amassed a 13-6 shot advantage, but were put in a more significant hole at 14:11 when McGuire doubled the lead, putting a rebound off a CJ Reuschlein shot behind Shafer.
Brandon Denham closed the gap with his goal at 17:59 when he knocked in a puck in a furious goal-mouth scramble with the extra attacker on the ice. However, with Shafer pulled for good in the waning seconds, Army forward Nick Decenzo raced up the ice with the puck behind the Colonials defense and closed out the scoring with his empty-net tally.
“Hats off to Army, they had a game plan and they did a very good job of defending the front of the net,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “They didn’t allow many odd-man rushes, and blocked a lot of shots, and they’re playing very inspired hockey right now. If we play the same way we played tonight, we’ll have the same result tomorrow. We just didn’t get to the front of the net and there weren’t a lot of second chances when there were rebounds. I thought we played a fairly decent third period, but hats off to Army, they played an outstanding game.”
The two teams conclude their weekend series Saturday night at the 84 Lumber Arena.