Bensenville, Ill. – The #2 ranked Robert Morris Men’s Gold Hockey team swept their weekend series from #13 ranked Iowa State University winning 1-0 on Friday, January 4th and 3-1 on Saturday, January 5th.
For the #2 ranked Robert Morris Gold Hockey team, time off from games has been as deadly an opponent as any flesh and blood team. Two elongated breaks from games this season alone have meant stale performances when returning to action. In past years, the holiday break has seen the team return rusty, usually dropping at least one of their first games back. Combine those factors with the fact that they were facing a nationally ranked opponent and league rival whom they hadn’t swept in more than eight years in #13 Iowa State University, and no one could be blamed for tempered expectations as RMU returned to action.
But in continuing their remarkable season, the Eagles racked up wins 19 and 20, sweeping ISU in two thrillers by scores of 1-0 and 3-1. The high powered Eagles offense, averaging nearly five goals a game, wasn’t evident in either contest, but the Gold team proved they could win with defense and goaltending, the formula necessary for success in the playoffs and nationals. Sophomore goalie Andy DiCristofaro was brilliant in both contests, smothering rebounds, reacting with lightning quickness on the most challenging shots, and shutting down Iowa State, stopping 60 of 61 shots over the two games. In front of DiCristofaro, the Eagles played a smothering slot defense that featured fearless shot blocking from forwards and defensemen alike, perfect penalty killing, and physical play from the defense that frustrated the visiting Cyclones all weekend.
In the opening game, signs of the Eagles’ rust could be seen on the power play, which was 0 for 4 in the very first period. After a scoreless first 20 minutes, RMU struck quickly in the second period. With a face off set to the left of ISU goalie Scott Ismund, sophomore center Kyle Hamilton, who led the team in shot blocks in the game with four, won the draw back to junior defenseman Mitch Tews. Tews sent a shot that sophomore forward Tony Domico deflected on goal. Ismund made the save, but the rebound went right to sophomore forward Mason Riley who deposited his fourth goal of the year into the net, scoring what would turn out to be the game’s only goal. After that, Ismund repelled the Eagles best chances to expand on their lead. At the other end of the ice, RMU put on a clinic in shot blocking with especially timely blocks from junior captain Chris Cimoch and sophomore forward Derek Winkler. In all, RMU had an astonishing 26 shot blocks. With just 3:50 left in the game, leading scorer Gehrett Sargis was sent to the penalty box, but penalty killing forwards Brett Moser, Cimoch, Winkler, Hamilton and Riley, together with defensemen Tews, juniors Andrew Montague, Zack Kuta and Ryan OConnell, and sophomores Will Nunez and Tyler Martorano clamped down preventing anything from getting near DiCristofaro.
RMU got off to a quicker start in the second game. On an early power play, Kuta scored his first goal of the year on a shot from the point that slid into the short side past ISU goalie Paul Karus giving the home team a 1-0 lead. ISU had a great chance two minutes later from point blank range, but DiCristofaro sent a message that Friday’s shutout was no accident, making a spectacular save with his right leg. That lead held up into the second period, when Cimoch stormed down the left wing and let a wrist shot go. Karus stopped the shot initially, but the puck dribbled behind him as Cimoch followed up the shot and slammed the puck into the net to make it 2-0. The Eagles struck again in the second period on the power play. Freshman Oleg Popov won a face-off and Domico gathered the loose puck and had a great scoring chance from close-in. Karus stopped it, but Hamilton got to the rebound and buried it, giving RMU a three-goal lead.
That lead held up until halfway through the third period, when a rare defensive miscue allowed for a breakaway. DiCristofaro stopped the first shot, but ISU’s John Kasich crashed the net and poked home the rebound, cutting the RMU lead to 3-1. Two more penalty kills were in the cards for the home team, but the penalty killers, augmented by sophomore Geno Melone and junior Adam Keasey, challenged every pass and shot, and ran the clock out, giving the Eagles the hard-fought sweep. The victories raised their record to 20-2-1, ended their regular season series with ISU at 3-1, and ran their league record to 5-1.
“I was worried about this weekend,” said RMU Head Coach Chico Adrahtas. “We have taken a few different approaches to prepping the team out of breaks with less than stellar success. ISU is always well-prepared and always a hard working team, so we knew we’d be up against it. These games had playoff intensity and our team was so committed to finding a way to win. Even with our offensive firepower, we have to be able to win when we’re not scoring in bunches and that holds true especially in the playoffs. We know we can do it and we’ve done it before this year, but to do it against an opponent as good as ISU was particularly gratifying. I am as proud of this team as is humanly possible.”
Adrahtas was quick to point out the work of the Hamilton-Riley-Domico line who, along with Montague and Tews, were assigned to play against ISU’s top line featuring their leading scorer, Jon Feavel. “They’ve never been held off the scoreboard for an entire weekend this year, and Feavel came to town with a seven- game goal scoring streak. Our guys were amazing against them.”
“Our intensity without the puck was amazing,” said RMU Assistant Coach Chad Berman. “We got great contributions from everyone defensively. When an offensive team can win with defense, you’ve got something special.”
The Eagles return to action for games Friday, January 11th and Saturday, January 12th against #23 ranked Indiana University. The games will be played at The Edge in Bensenville on the East Rink, with an 8:50 P.M. start on Friday and a 7:30 P.M. puck drop on Saturday.