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MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Robert Morris took a lesson from Friday night’s loss at the hands of visiting Army West Point, and the message was loud and clear.
Play with energy. Stay with the process.
The Colonials did both in a hard-fought 3-0 victory on Saturday night in a game that featured a playoff-type atmosphere.
A two goal Colonial onslaught near the midway point of the final period broke open a scoreless contest as Greg Gibson and Timmy Moore found a way to put the puck past Army goaltender Parker Gahagen, who had managed to stop 72 of 73 RMU shots through 100 minutes of hockey on the weekend.
At the other end of the rink, Robert Morris netminder Terry Shafer stopped all 40 Army shots en route to his eighth career shutout.
“We wanted to play with a lot more energy and a lot more juice tonight,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “We had a lot of energy from the start and we played hard and we stuck with the process. We made sure that if things didn’t go our way that we didn’t get frustrated or lose our focus and we stuck with it for 60 minutes.”
The Colonials came out of the dressing room looking to set a different tone than the one that saw them fail to match the Black Knights’ intensity the night before, and were successful in doing so by virtue of sustained pressure in the Army end for longer stretches of the first 20 minutes.
But the increased intensity failed to show up on the scoreboard as Gahagen stood his ground early on.
Both teams then sought to turn up the pressure in more ways than one. The game grew increasingly physical as it went along with bone-crunching checks at either end of the rink, and post-whistle scrums at every turn. Between the whistles, Army began to switch gears as the second period got underway, and started to use their speed in a transition game normally suited towards the Colonials’ preferred style of play.
The tactic nearly accomplished the goal as forwards Joe Kozlak and C.J. Reuschlein both ended up with multiple quality chances.
As the contest wore on, one thing became increasingly clear to most of the 1521 fans in the capacity crowd at the 84 Lumber Arena — that whomever got the first goal was more than likely skating out with the win.
And with offense at a premium, it would take a near perfect shot to score the elusive first marker, which came off Gibson’s stick at 7:31 of the third period as he took a smooth cross-ice pass from Chase Golightly and one-timed a slap shot that beat Gahagen over the blocker for the opening goal.
But the Colonials took no chances on having only one goal holding up as less than two minutes later, Moore put a long rebound from a Daniel Leavens shot in the back of the net to double the Robert Morris lead.
Army then mounted a furious challenge over the final half of the third period, but Shafer made several point-blank saves during a power play and extra-attacker segment in the waning moments.
Gibson capped off the three-goal period with an empty-net tally from behind his own blue line at 18:22 for this 22nd goal of the season.
“It had a bit of a playoff feel tonight,” Schooley said. “But there’s still six games left and that’s how teams are going to play us and we have to learn how to play with teams that try to knock us down and get chippy with us and we’ve got to keep our focus.”
For the Black Knights, the two point weekend was not the ultimate goal, but the effort over their recent unbeaten streak which came to an end at six games, perhaps pointed to a team headed going in the right direction at the right time.
“I thought we played another good game,” Army coach Brian Riley said. “Obviously, we made it a 20-minute game with these guys and it just seemed like whomever scored the first goal was probably going to win. Gibson’s a really good player and he made a really good shot. I thought there were some times tonight where we were in a really good spot, but we didn’t create enough traffic going to the net, so that’ll be something that we work at. I like how our guys played this weekend, Robert Morris is a really good team and I thought our guys went toe to toe with them.”