Colonials open season with emphatic win

Josh Yost, Assistant Sports Editor

An inexperienced Air Force squad, featuring seven freshmen and eight sophomores in the night’s line-up, appeared to become rattled early from the physical play of the highly experienced Robert Morris Colonials. The Colonials took advantage of that throughout the game, and managed to take home a 5-1 victory in their first game of the season.

The first period started off rough, with RMU appearing to be looking for hits. Brandon Denham, within the first couple minutes, jumped off the bench and rushed a player right in front of the penalty box with a crash. Setting the tone, the Colonials continued to out-muscle the opponent to give themselves open opportunities. They frequently required multiple defenders, opening up the ice.

“I think first game of the season, everyone just wants to get into the game,” said Denham. “For me, I know a lot of guys, it’s easy to just give a hit. Either give a hit, take a hit, something to get you into the game and get your energy going.”

About midway through the first, Brady Ferguson drove into the middle of the offensive zone, and with one free hand behind two defenders pushed the puck to Denham. Denham fired off a shot that was easily knocked away with the blocker.

David Friedmann quickly located the rebound and fired his own shot to the short side, which was blocked down to where Denham was settling; he was able to pull it to his backhand and wrap it around the goaltender for the first goal of the evening and the season.

“I passed it to Frieds and he took a shot, tried to take a shot,” said Denham. “I got the rebound, turned around, kind of shot it and got a goal.”

Dalton Izyk managed eight saves during the period, despite occasionally looking a little slow with locating the cross-ice passes. Though he left rebounds nearby, they were quickly retrieved by the defense, keeping the Falcons shut out for the period.

“Dalton was very good tonight,” said head coach Derek Schooley. “I think Dalton looked in mid-season form in game one. Outstanding game for him.”

In the second period, it started off a little chippy. Ferguson landed a hard hit on Dylan Abood, which left him crawling to the boards and needing aided to his feet. Ferguson was called for charging. Nothing came of it, however, as the Colonials defense continued to force the shots to the outside.

Near the midpoint again, both teams took a penalty. Evan Giesler for Air Force was called for hooking while Matt Cope was called for embellishment. They went to four-on-four, opening up the ice for some quicker offense. In their offensive zone, Air Force dropped three deep to push for a tying goal. With a shot from just inside the home-plate area — between the face-off dots — Colonials captain Tyson Wilson dropped to block a shot. As he corralled the rebound from his body, he spotted Greg Gibson going one-on-one with a defender.

He rifled the pass to Gibson, who gained a step and fired the shot just by the blocker of Air Force goaltender Billy Christopoulos.

“It was a nice pass by Tyson, I mean, I was springing up the middle, it was a great feed,” said Gibson. “And when I saw a little room on the blocker side, I put it home.”

The score would remain 2-0 into the second intermission, despite a heavy push from Air Force shortly after the penalties ended where the puck entered the net after the net was pushed off it’s moorings. Air Force protested this, but after review the ruling was confirmed.

The third period was when things began to kick off. Air Force made a more concentrated effort to try and force a goal. Izyk was able to fend them off, however, and would end the night having faced 13 shots in the home-plate area and stopping every one. Instead, the Colonials chased off Christopoulos with two goals 24 seconds apart. The first had Friedmann carrying the puck down the right side and facing toward the center of the zone all the way by the goal-line. With Christopoulos pulled out of his crease to defend, he rifled a pass to Ferguson cutting in. Ferguson gave it two-touches and roofed it into the wide-open net.

Immediately following, RMU won the face-off back to Wilson. He passed it off to Chase Golightly, who sent it up to Zac Lynch. The play was so bang-bang, this reporter barely had a moment to note the previous goal before Lynch was driving in on the right side and rifled a shot over Christopoulos’s glove, despite him hugging the post.

Air Force immediately pulled Christopoulous, down 4-0, and inserted another freshman in Shane Starrett. They also called timeout. Fifteen seconds later, there was a media timeout.

In the extended break, somebody must have whispered about the shutout Izyk had going or it must have entered his mind. The ensuing face-off in the Colonials zone was won by Air Force, who won 43 on the night versus RMU’s 30, and went back to defenseman Johnny Hrabovsky.

Hrabovsky didn’t hesitate, wound up and fired a slapshot before the defense had much opportunity to move. It just slipped by Izyk’s glove and left pad, and settled into the mesh to break the shutout.

“The one area that I thought we were terrible on was face-offs,” said Schooley. “I thought it was 30-13 going into the third period and ended up 40-30, so obviously 17-13 us in the third period. But any time you get barbecued like that on face-offs, they’re going to end up scoring. And that’s how they scored, on a face-off. We have to do a better job on face-offs, that’s for sure.”

Robert Morris would add another goal later in the game when Air Force pulled their goalie during a four-on-four to create a pseudo-powerplay opportunity. A poke check went to Cope just inside the defensive blue line, and he fired a one-time snapshot the length of the ice for a goal.

That goal would be Robert Morris’ only one outside the home-plate area. They took 12 shots in the home-plate area — the most dangerous part of the ice — and scored four goals.

Robert Morris and Air Force will be back in action against each other Saturday, Oct. 17 down at 84 Lumber Arena.