Springfield, Ill. – The 13th ranked Robert Morris Men’s Gold Hockey team went 3-0 in the ACHA Division I Showcase in Springfield, Illinois defeating Niagara University 2-0 and upsetting #6 University of Delaware 4-1 and #7 Liberty University 7-3. The Eagles raised their record to 6-0-1, a mark all the more impressive because all seven contests were played on the road.
The RMU Gold Hockey team was less than thrilled when the weekly ACHA rankings were published on October 4th which saw them slide from #11 to #13. This, despite having swept the University of Central Oklahoma on the road, only to see that team come in with the #9 ranking. But with the ACHA Division I Showcase held in Springfield, Illinois just a day away, they had a chance to do something about it and that’s just what they did.
RMU opened the weekend against unranked Niagara University, and authored a 2-0 victory. The score was closer than the play, as the Eagles outshot their opponents a whopping 44-13, as Niagara goalie Dane Wakefield put in a superb performance. Freshman Oleg Popov netted the game’s first goal and what turned out to be the winner, when his shot tipped off traffic in front of the net and went behind Wakefield in the first period. Sophomore Kyle Hamilton was the team’s other goal scorer, lifting a rebound home as he was falling to the ice in the second period. Freshman Rob Kennedy posted the shutout win in his very first collegiate start in goal.
The Eagles next game was against the University of Delaware, the defending ACHA Division I National Champions. RMU started the game at a breakneck pace, outshooting Delaware 19-8 in the first period and coming away with a 2-1 lead. Delaware actually drew first blood in the contest, converting on a two-on-one break, but the Eagles responded as sophomore Markus Ellis tied the game just moments later, converting into the empty side of the net thanks to great passes from line mates Paul Isleib and Rock Einersen. Junior Mitch Tews then scored what would be the winning goal, threading a wrist shot from the point through traffic. RMU did not sit on that lead, and junior assistant captain Gehrett Sargis scored on a two-on-one, ripping home a snap shot to the short side of the goal. Ellis added an insurance marker in the third period on a power play, and the Eagles completed the upset defeating Delaware 4-1. Sophomore Andy DiCristofaro recorded the win in goal for RMU, his fourth of the young season.
The Showcase finale was against #7 ranked Liberty University. Liberty, who had beaten RMU 5-3 exactly a year earlier in the Showcase and who had entered the weekend undefeated before dropping tight contests to the powerhouse teams from Oklahoma and Minot State by scores of 5-4 and 3-1 respectively, clearly wanted to leave Springfield with a victory. But as they had against Delaware, RMU started out fast and got faster. Senior Mason Riley opened the scoring, netting a rebound from close range, and Sargis made it 2-0 not long thereafter. Liberty cut the lead to 2-1 late in the period, but that’s as close as they would get. RMU blew the game open with a three goal outburst in the second period, this, after goalie DiCristofaro robbed Liberty of what should have been the tying goal with a brilliant glove save. Hamilton began the onslaught burying a rebound to make it 3-1, and then freshman Chris Pontello scored the first goal of his collegiate career. Sophomore Sean White hit Pontello with a perfect pass up the middle of the ice, springing the fleet center in alone on the Liberty goal and he fired a shot into the top shelf for the goal. Sophomore Tony Domico made it 5-1, with another rebound goal, and the line of Hamilton-Domico-Riley dominated in the offensive zone.
Liberty made it interesting early in the third, cutting the lead to 5-2 in the first minute of play, but Sargis scored his second of the game on the power play from the slot to restore the four goal lead. Liberty scored again later in the period, but that goal was answered by junior captain Chris Cimoch, who scored a goal worthy of ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Day. The right winger sped down the left wing into the Liberty zone, pulled a 360 degree spin-o-rama and launched a backhand into the far side of the net, giving the team a goal for the ages as well as the final margin in the 7-3 victory.
“Our players got better every game,” said RMU Assistant Coach Chad Berman. “For the first time this year, we showed real killer instinct in the game against Liberty. The accomplishment was all the more impressive because we were missing two of our top six defenseman as well as one of our goalies. Our defensemen, especially Tews, Zack Kuta, Tyler Martorano and Ryan O’Connell logged huge minutes and were brilliant.”
Indeed the injury bug did hit the Eagles hard. Junior Andrew Montague sprained his ankle against Niagara and could not go the rest of the weekend, sophomore Will Nunez was out with a concussion, junior Adam Keasey missed the games with a knee injury, and goalie Tony Petrak injured his ankle in the pre-game warm-up before the Liberty contest, a game he was scheduled to start.
After three weekends on the road, the Eagles finally begin their home schedule with games on Friday, October 12th and Saturday, October 13th against Davenport University. Both games have 7:30 P.M. face-offs and will be played at The Edge in Bensenville, Illinois.