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The Robert Morris Colonials made their way past a determined Canisius team with a recipe of timely saves from starting goaltender Terry Shafer, three power-play goals, and a hat trick from their leading goal scorer, Greg Gibson, in Saturday’s 6-2 victory at 84 Lumber Arena.
The Colonials’ most successful senior class was also honored, and contributed to each and every goal and assist on the night save for Brady Ferguson’s assist in the second period. Not overlooked in the offensive onslaught was the performance of Zac Lynch, who managed three assists, tying him with Cody Wydo on the all-time scoring list with 150 career points.
“For us, it’s all about the body of work, and our body of work for the whole year was really good,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “We only had two points less than we did all of last year. I liked our game tonight. We capitalized on a lot of opportunities, although I thought our defense struggled a little bit tonight. We gave up some odd-man opportunities, but Terry was there. I told our guys tonight that it seems like at times they’ve been bored during the regular season, but now it’s go time. We’ve got an off week to prepare and get healthy. This group has won a lot of hockey games. I don’t know if bored is the right word, but I think they’ve been waiting for the playoffs, they’ve been waiting for the opportunity to get back to the NCAA tournament, they’ve been waiting for this chance, and it’s upon us.”
The score may have appeared lopsided, but to the 1,512 fans in attendance, the game was a tight affair from the drop of the puck as Canisius kept Robert Morris at bay, limiting the chances for the first 40 minutes. Gibson got the Colonials off and rolling with a power-play tally at the 17:50 mark of the first period when he took a pass from Lynch in the lower right circle and sent it through Canisus goaltender Simon Hofley. However, the Griffins responded with a power-play goal of their own at 19:21 as Ralph Cuddemi put a rebound in the slot past Shafer to knot the score.
The intensity from both sides turned up a notch in the second period as both teams fought to seize the momentum, which spilled over into more penalties. Griffins forward Cody Boyd was given a misconduct for spearing David Friedmann at 2:43, and on the ensuing five-minute major penalty, the Colonials appeared to take control when Friedmann took a well-timed pass from Zac Lynch stationed behind the Canisius net, and buried it past Hofley to give the Colonials the lead again at 6:31.
Griffins defenseman Cameron Heath had other ideas though, and skated in late on a Canisius attack, where he found a rebound that he sent to the back of the net less than two minutes later.
In the recent history between the two schools, a pattern of close games that had broken open in the later stages had developed stretching back to the Colonials 2014 AHA tournament win over Canisius, and Saturday night’s contest kept that pattern intact as Friedmann would score again before the end of the second frame with another power-play goal, enabled by a great individual effort from forward Brandon Denham, who kept the play alive several times.
Denham’s goal from a faceoff win at 13:17 gave Robert Morris some much needed breathing room, then Greg Gibson took any Canisius hope away as he took advantage of a Griffins turnover near the Robert Morris blue line and skated in on Hofley on a breakaway, beating the Griffins goaltender with a wrist shot from between the circles at 15:31.
Canisius coach Dave Smith then elected to pull Hofley in the waning minutes as Gibson took a pass from Lynch in his own zone and threw it over 100 feet into the empty cage to finish the hat trick. It was his 28th goal of the season, and Lynch’s 150th point as the Colonials put an exclamation point on the night.
“I actually liked our effort tonight and this weekend as well,” Smith said. “We just didn’t capitalize as well as they did. Gibson’s hat trick was the big difference in the game. We had similar chances though and if we could have buried some of them, it could have been a completely different hockey game tonight. We actually got better this weekend. We had a poor weekend last weekend and we were very disappointed with our play and we challenged our guys to manage the puck better and defend harder and I thought we did that. We gave up six goals both nights this weekend, but they were totally different games.”