The first game of the Atlantic Hockey semifinals featured the top team in the league Robert Morris against the lowest seed remaining in the tournament Army. The play was physical early and characterized by “tight checking,” as phrased by Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley in his postgame presser.
The Black Knights controlled play early partly because of the three straight power plays they earned in the first period, one of which resulted in the first goal of the game.
Clint Carlisle got the first goal for Army at the 18:29 mark in the first period. It was quick hard shot that went up and over the shoulder of Robert Morris goaltender Terry Shafer. Unfortunately this would be the only goal scored by Army as Shafer and Gahagen began an epic goaltending duel.
Robert Morris would return the favor in the second period, as Eric Israel scored on a weird angle shot that somehow slipped between the pads of Gahagen.
The third period was a tough stanza for both teams. Play slowed down considerably, as both teams appeared afraid to make the mistake that would cost them a berth in Saturday’s championship game. The teams played not to lose and the game went into overtime, the second sudden-death semifinal in a row for the Colonials, who had dropped a 4-3 thriller to Mercyhurst a year ago.
Army started the overtime period off on fire as they controlled play and put a number of shots on goaltender Terry Shafer.
“Our guys got stronger in overtime,” remarked Army head coach Brian Riley. “The focus early started in the locker room.”
The momentum did not last however as a deflected pass in the high slot ended up on the stick of Atlantic Hockey player of the year, Zac Lynch.
“You want the puck on the stick of the player of the year at the end of the game,” Schooley offered.
Lynch did not disappoint, putting the puck past Gahagen and giving Robert Morris the victory and the berth in the championship game.
After the game, Schooley was nothing but complimentary to his upset-minded foe. “Hats off to Army,” he said. “That was tough out for us.”
Reilly had a similar opinion of the game, offering that, “I am disappointed with the result but not the play of my players.
“The players have all bought into how we play defense. This was our type of game.”
The victorious Colonials spoke to experience as the catalyst for the victory. Zac Lynch said it best with “being here three years in a row really helped us.”
But unlike last year, Robert Morris is moving on to the championship game because, as Schooley put it, “we capitalized on our chances in overtime.”
Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Air Force
The crowd was loud to start the second semifinal as the RIT Tigers played a de facto home game only 15 minutes from their campus at Blue Cross Arena. The Tigers, however, did not come out playing up to the level of their crowd, as they came out flat and Air Force carried the play all through the first period and the second period.
The Falcons thought their efforts were rewarded midway through the second period when it appeared that Kyle Haak tipped a puck past Mike Rotolo. However, the goal was reviewed, and it was determined that Haak punched the puck past the RIT netminder using his glove and the goal was overturned.
But the Falcons did not have to wait long to get their first goal afterward, as Evan Feno shot the puck past Rotolo to nab the 1-0 lead.
Air Force continued to control the game for the rest of the second period and the majority of the third period. However, RIT managed to turn it on and force a turnover in the Air Force zone and senior forward Andrew Miller sniped the puck past Shane Starrett.
“We knew we would have to work for our chances against Air Force,” said Miller, “I know I have a good shot.”
That it was, as the Tigers tied the game, 1-1. Overtime was forced for the second game of the day.
The overtime period was a scrambly one with both teams going up and down the ice and getting chances. Rotolo made a crucial difference, and ultimately earned Air Force coach Frank Serratore’s praises in the latter’s postgame media address.
“Rotolo was the difference maker in the game for RIT,” he said.
On one of the many broken plays in overtime the Tigers got their chance to strike, as Myles Powell found himself with the puck in the slot.
“I just tried to get the puck on net and it went in,” the forward explained as the puck did go into the net and the Tigers got a dramatic overtime victory.
But it was not all roses for the Tigers. In his postgame comments, head coach Wayne Wilson said, “I don’t think we played very well, we looked lethargic at times.”
He was proud on his team’s resiliency, however, adding that “We found a way to win the game, but we will have to play better tomorrow.”
They will most certainly have to play better as they look to take down the two-time regular-season champion Colonials in order to defend their playoff crown.