Robert Morris made it loud and clear that despite losing ten seniors and not three-peating as regular season Atlantic Hockey champions, the Colonials didn’t need to rebuild, just reload.
Brady Ferguson’s hat trick helped fourth-seeded Robert Morris advance to the Atlantic Hockey championship game for the second season in a row after defeating top-seeded Canisius 6-2 in the early semifinal at Blue Cross Arena.
“Everybody wanted to think that we were going to take a little step back,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley. “(Our players) weren’t going to allow that.”
The loss ended Canisius’ 17-game unbeaten streak, and the Golden Griffins’ season.
“We started tentative; we started slow and that I believe that ultimately cost us the game,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “We got better as the game went on, but we didn’t capitalize on our chances. The story of the game, which we have had in our favor for a long time, was that we weren’t able to capitalize on our chances. We had numerous chances that we didn’t capitalize on, and they were able to take advantage of our mistakes.”
Goals by Spencer Dorowicz and Daniel Mantenuto staked the Colonials to a 2-0 first period lead. Canisius goaltender Charles Williams, who entered the game with the top save percentage in the nation (.946) was first beaten by a wrister from Dorowicz at 12:01 and by Mantenuto, off an errant Canisius clearing attempt with just 12 seconds left in the first.
Canisius came out flying in the second period, outshooting Robert Morris 8-0 over the first half of the stanza, but was unable to solve RMU freshman goaltender Francis Marotte, who finished with 27 saves.
Marotte, who has the second-best save percentage in Division I (.933), was able to stop breakaways by Matt Hoover and Dylan McLaughlin before Ferguson made it 3-0 with his first of the game, off a centering feed from Daniel Leavens. Ferguson’s shot came from the high slot and past a screened Williams.
“We tried to make (Williams) feel uncomfortable in the crease,” said Schooley. “Canisius does a very good job at protecting their net. We want to be around their net a lot and create traffic.”
Ferguson’s goal at 12:40 was just the second shot of the period at that point for the Colonials.
“That was a big turning point in the game,” said Schooley. “They had the big breakaway at 2-0 and we come back after the whistle and score a goal. Huge turning point.”
That set the stage for a wide-open third period that saw a combined five goals scored. Canisius got on the board on a power play goal from Nick Hutchison. Hoover’s shot hit the back boards and floated behind Marotte before Hutchison crashed the net, slamming home the loose puck.
The Golden Griffins looked to make it a one-goal game a few minutes later, when Hutchison again went hard to the net, lowering his shoulder into Marotte, with the puck ending up in the net. The goal was waved off and video replay confirmed the call on the ice.
“I was in position, and he kind of pushed me back.” said Marotte. “I was trying not to think too much about it when they were reviewing, and focus on making the next save. Obviously it was a big deal for us that it got waved (off).”
Ferguson’s power-play goal at 14:31 gave RMU back its three-goal cushion, and with Williams on the bench for an extra attacker, the teams traded empty-net and extra-attacker goals in the final minutes. The sixth and final Robert Morris goal was Ferguson’s third of the game.
Robert Morris improved to 22-11-4, including 3-0-1 against ranked teams so far this season. Canisius, which entered the game at No. 20, finished 21-11-7.
If there was any doubt, the Colonials eliminated it with a convincing win.
“We’ve had a pretty good year, winning 22 games,” said Schooley. “We’re hoping to win 23 and maybe more.”