An important two points were at stake Saturday night, the kind of points that help determine first-round byes and home-ice advantage in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. And Robert Morris wound up with them courtesy of a overtime goal off the stick of a special player.
Senior forward Ben Robillard has had his share of challenges in his career, overcoming a long list of injuries that have limited his playing time. But on Saturday, Robillard scored one of the most important goals of his career when he beat Mercyhurst goaltender Brandon Wildung 1:58 into overtime to give the Colonials a crucial 3-2 victory.
“It’s indescribable, ” an emotional Robillard said. “To contribute in that way is something special, especially because I’ve contributed in other ways. It’s been a hell of a year and I’m just glad I do anything I could to help the team and as soon as I saw it go in I couldn’t believe it. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The Colonials were eager to get rid of the taste of a 7-4 loss on Friday night at Mercyhurst, a game in which they gave up five unanswered goals. Despite a first period that saw them out shoot the Lakers by a 13-10 margin, it was Mercyhurst that opened the scoring when Jack Riley put a hard shot past Colonials netminder Dalton Izyk at 14:37 of the opening frame.
It has been that way lately for the Colonials, who have endured several games that have seen them put forth a strong effort, but have little to show for it on the scoreboard. However the Colonials refused to become frustrated and kept their focus.
“That was a playoff hockey game tonight and that’s how we have to make sure we play,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “We have to play for 60 or 65 or however long it takes to win. We really focused on playing a complete game tonight.
“You just have to peak at the right time, that’s what it comes down to. RIT was leaking oil last year going into the playoffs and they ended up winning. We just wanted to play a complete game and prepare for the playoffs.
“I thought our work ethic was outstanding and our compete level was good. We got pucks in and were really good down low. We were dominating for two periods and we were down 2-1, and I told the guys that we were going to win this last period 2-0. I just didn’t realize we were going to have to win two periods 1-0.”
Freshman Daniel Mantenuto got Robert Morris on the board at 6:33 of the second period when he took a feed from behind the net from forward Timmy Moore and put it behind Wildung from close range to knot the score at 1. But a late-period goal from Lakers forward Taylor Best put Mercyhurst back in front. The Colonials remained undaunted though and stayed the course, playing smart defense and creating scoring chances in the final stanza. Wildung remained up to the task.
However, on a critical mid-period power play, Moore tied the score with a shot from the right circle that made its way past Wildung at 9:27.
“Our power play has kind of been struggling a little bit and we haven’t been getting the bounces we wanted,” Moore said. “(Daniel) Leavens made a good pass and I just kind of closed my eyes and shot it and it went in. It’s been a struggle the past month or so, but there’s no quit in this team. We’re ready to go and we finally got some bounces and kept the puck out of our net. We just have to finish up next week and get four points and we’re rolling into the playoffs.”
In overtime the game was decided on two critical moments. Less than a minute in, Izyk stoned a two-on-none Lakers attack at the Colonials net that seemed destined to be a game winner with a highlight reel save to keep the score tied. Moments later, Robillard came with speed down the right wing and shot through WIldung for the winner. The Lakers called for a review to confirm, delaying a frenzied celebration of Robillard and his goal which his teammates were eager to embark upon.
“He’s battled through ups and downs, he’s battled through adversity and he’s the definition of a guy that just keeps coming back and battles through that adversity,” Schooley said. ”He scored the game winning goal at UConn in his freshman year in game two of the series and hasn’t really been healthy since the end of that year. I’m so happy for him. I put him out there with that line and that’s not even his line, just because it was senior night and a gut feeling and it paid off.”
The Colonials need one point in their upcoming series with Niagara to clinch a first round bye in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.
Atlantic Hockey roundup
No. 19 Air Force 3, RIT 2
Freshman Trevor Stone’s early third-period goal held up as the winner at Rochester, N.Y., as the Falcons moved to one point of Canisius for the conference lead. Kyle Haak and Jordan Himley also scored for Air Force, Liam Kerins and Garrett McMullen scored for the host Tigers. The Falcons outshot the Tigers, 31-20.
Army West Point 4, Holy Cross 2
Conor Andrle capped a back-and-forth, five-goal first period with a power-play goal with 17 seconds to play in the period that held up as the winner at West Point, N.Y. Michael Wilson scored 1:22 into the game but Peter Crinella answered for Holy Cross. Alex Wilkinson re-established the Black Knights’ lead late in the period, but Ryan Ferrill answered 1:32 later. Trevor Fidler got an insurance goal for Army with 47 seconds left, and Parker Gahagen made 30 saves.
Sacred Heart 3, Bentley 2
The teams combined for four goals in the final 3:18 of the game, but the Pioneers held on for the victory at Bridgeport, Conn. Evan Jasper gave Sacred Heart a short-lived 2-0 lead before Bentley’s Alexey Solovyev struck. The Falcons pulled goalie Aidan Pelino for an extra attacker and Mitch Nylen’s clearing pass banked in the empty net for a 3-1 lead. However, the Falcons’ Drew Callin scored on a 6-on-4 with 50 seconds left.