Top-seeded Colonials lose heartbreaker in CHA Championship


Robert Morris battled through the first period. But a four-goal second period propelled the Orange to the CHA tournament title. Photo credit: Timothy Kelly

Adam Melluso, Contributor

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Robert Morris women’s hockey team (16-4-6, 13-4-3 CHA) looked to capture their third College Hockey America championship on Friday night at the HarborCenter in Buffalo. The Colonials were trying to reverse their fortunes following last year’s loss to the #2-seed Mercyhurst Lakers in the title game, and were one step away from winning it all. Before they could think about that, however, they had to get through the #3-seed Syracuse Orange (13-21-3, 10-8-2 CHA), whom the Colonials had swept two weeks prior and who had upset Mercyhurst in the previous night’s late semifinal, 4-3, thanks in large part to a hat trick from Lindsay Eastwood.

The first period started off nearly as much of a stalemate as the Colonials’ contest the previous night against Penn State had, with neither team budging in the first few minutes of play. While RMU tried to frustrate Syracuse with their speed, it was the Orange who ultimately irritated the Colonials more with their solid defensive presence and quick lifts of the stick that kept RMU from getting on the board early. Both goaltenders held strong until just over halfway through the period, when RMU’s rookie sensation Arielle DeSmet gave up an uncharacteristic goal. The puck worked its way back to Orange defender Allie Olnowich, who floated a long wrist shot from the point over DeSmet’s glove and into the top left corner to give Syracuse the 1-0 lead with 10:39 left on the clock, the assist going to Lauren Bellefontaine. The Colonials became extremely sloppy with puck carriage, giving away numerous passes to the Orange on offensive breaks out of the zone, many of which turned dangerous. However, DeSmet kept the attackers at bay, and RMU would try to turn their fortunes around when SU’s Kelli Roswell was sent off for hooking at the 13:12 mark.

The Colonials worked the puck around on their potent power-play, but seemed to overpass the puck and any shot they did take immediately was blocked or sent off the stick of the Orange and out of play. RMU nearly found themselves down two when Roswell came out of the box, collected a misplayed puck at center and streaked in on a breakaway on DeSmet but hit the post on the shot. It seemed as if the Colonials would go to the locker room after 20 behind by one, but with 34,5 seconds left on the clock, and the Colonials pressing in the Syracuse zone, Caitlyn Sadowy banked a shot off of Orange goalie Ady Cohen that rolled in to tie the score at one apiece. With that, the Colonials escaped a crazy first tied as they went to the first intermission.

In the second, RMU’s play began to get extremely sloppy and it would cost them dearly by the time the period ended. With 12:44 left on the clock, Kristen Siermachesky chipped the puck off of DeSmet which came right back to her and was banged home to put Syracuse back in the lead, 2-1. RMU nearly had a subsequent penalty killed off to Waysin Rice, but just as she stepped out of the box, the Orange’s Brooke Avery put a low shot through the five-hole of DeSmet to put Syracuse up by two. The play was challenged by RMU bench boss Paul Colontino for offside but it stood and the Orange were firmly in front. Just a few minutes later, RMU’s Sarah Quaranta was leveled just inside her own line by the aforementioned Avery, but while she got two for roughing, Quaranta was also sent off for embellishment.

Things just got worse from there as Syracuse immediately went to work on the four-on-four. Allie Olonwich fed Savannah Rennie who put the puck past DeSmet to strengthen the Orange lead to 4-1. Coach Colontino switched netminders afterwards, substituting in Lauren Bailey, but the Colonials again put themselves in trouble when Jaycee Gebhard was sent off after tripping her opponent down in frustration and the Orange struck again, as RMU gave away a relatively easy-to-play puck in their own zone and Amanda Hoppner fed leading Syracuse goal scorer Lauren Bellefontaine, who beat Bailey to push the Orange to a 5-1 lead. With that, RMU went to the locker room having had a period fraught with defensive mistakes, penalties, and mirroring last year’s second period championship effortt against Mercyhurst as all hope of a third CHA title seemed lost, unless they battled back quickly, early, and often.

Heading into the third and final frame, the Colonials would have to be nothing short of perfect if they hoped to get back in the game. With 1:41 left on a penalty assessed to the Orange’s Amanda Hoppner near the end of the second, the Colonials had some quick opportunities, but often tried to make extremely complex plays that the Orange were able to read easily to clear out of the zone. The Colonials got back to within three with 14:10 left in regulation when Lexi Templeman fed a nice pass to Jaycee Gebhard off a Syracuse turnover, who put the puck through the pads of Cohen to make the score 5-2. But the Colonials’ struggles with puck movement continued throughout the rest of the frame, and a goal by Syracuse’s Abby Moloughney with an assist to Jessica DiGirolamo with just under three minutes left firmly gained Syracuse the victory and revenge against the Colonials, who swept them two weeks prior on Neville Island on senior weekend.

RMU head coach Paul Colontino had the same comment regarding the outcome of the game as last year’s heartbreaker to the Mercyhurst Lakers. “We can’t base our season off of one game, and often times it’s the biggest games” said Colontino. He called the 2018-19 campaign “successful”, noting the Colonials first place finish and regular season title this year, in addition to the “leadership that we’ve had in the program” and touted the great way in which the “program [of RMU women’s hockey] has continued to grow.”

Senior captain Maggie LaGue, though emotional about the loss, stated, “this doesn’t define our season at all.” “I’m really proud of this group, and I know they’re going to do exciting things with this program…it’s been an honor to wear the jersey for four years” LaGue continued to say. She also complimented her fellow senior class for their accomplishments. “This group has done so much and I’m so blessed to be a part of this senior class and definitely [being part of some of the highs] that I know I’ll remember forever.” As for her future in the NWHL with the Connecticut Whale and beyond, LaGue also remarked that the RMU women’s hockey program prepared her well for her future endeavors. “I’ve grown so much as a person being a part of this program, part of this coaching staff, and this group has made me a better person, I think..I know I’ll take that with me forever…I’m very grateful to have been a part of it, to have made an impact, and I know it’s had an impact on my life.”

The Orange outshot RMU in the game, 30-28.