PREVIEW: Men’s hockey closes regular season at home against Mercyhurst

Men%27s+hockey+returns+home+to+host+Mercyhurst+on+Thursday.+Photo+Credit%3A+Nathan+Breisinger

Men’s hockey returns home to host Mercyhurst on Thursday. Photo Credit: Nathan Breisinger

By Nathan Roberts, Contributor

NEVILLE TWP, Pa. – After dropping the last two games to RIT (9-7-2, 7-5-1), the Robert Morris men’s hockey team (14-7, 10-5-1 AHA) will square off with Mercyhurst (8-11-1, 7-8-1-2 AHA) for one final regular-season meeting between the two teams as they prepare for the postseason.

Recapping RMU

The Colonials are coming off a tough two-game series with RIT, losing by a score of 6-1 in game one, and 4-3 in game two. Randy Hernandez put the Colonials on the scoresheet in the second period of game one after a quiet first period from both teams. The goal by Hernández would be the only shot that found the back of the net for Robert Morris, as RIT would take it from there and go on to score six unanswered goals. RMU outshot the Tigers 40-32, but Tiger goaltender Ian Andriano seemed to have an answer for everything.

In game two, the Colonials found a way to tighten the margin but still managed to come up short. Elijah Gonsalves put the Tigers up by one early. Later in the first, RMU senior Nick Prkusic put one past Andriano to even things up on the power play. No lead seemed to be safe in this one as in the second, Kobe Walker put the Tigers back in front 2-1, only for the Colonials to respond with two goals of their own from Grant Hebert at the 12:24 mark and freshman Randy Hernández less than a minute later.

RMU would head to the third with a one-goal advantage. RIT played similarly in the third by scoring two goals not even a minute apart to make it a 4-3 game and the eventual final score. Once again, Tiger goalie Ian Andriano seemed to fend off every big chance the Colonials had.

Scouting Mercyhurst

The Lakers come into this one after splitting a home-and-home series with Niagara over the weekend. The first-period goal by Paul Maust would prove to be enough in the first matchup as Mercyhurst goalie Kyle McClellan pitched a shutout in game one by turning aside all 22 Niagara shots to give the Lakers the 1-0 win on Friday night. This shutout would be the first for Mercyhurst since November of 2018 at Sacred Heart.

McClellan was good in game two, but not quite good enough as Mercyhurst fell 2-1 on Saturday. Niagara jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal scored by senior Eric Cooley nine minutes into the first period. The Lakers never saw a lead in this one, keeping it at a one-goal game most of the way. Niagara forward Ludwig Stenlund tacked on an insurance goal seven minutes into the third for the Purple Eagles to make it a 2-0 lead.

The lone Mercyhurst goal was scored by Steven Ipri a little over halfway through the third period to cut the deficit in half. Niagara would cling to the one-goal advantage to top the Lakers in Niagara Falls.

Players to Watch

Randy Hernández (RMU) – The freshman has 10 goals and 12 assists so far this season for a total of 22 points. In the season series against Mercyhurst, he has contributed with a goal and an assist. Hernández is riding a six-game point streak and would certainly like to extend that to seven on Thursday night.

Nick Prkusic (RMU) – Prkusic not only has 24 points for the Colonials this season, but he is also in the running for the Hobey Baker Award. In previous games with the Lakers this year, he has managed to tally one goal and three assists in a three-game span. Prkusic also put up three points in the most recent series against RIT.

Kyle McClellan (Mercyhurst) – McClellan is coming off two very solid performances. In his last two games against Niagara, he has stopped 47 of 49 total shots faced. On top of that, he has posted a .936 save percentage this season.

Jonathan Bendorf (Mercyhurst) – In three meetings with the Colonials this season, Bendorf has put up three goals, and 11 total points on the year. Two of those goals came in one game against Robert Morris. The sophomore from New Jersey has been quiet these past few games for the Lakers. He could easily catch fire if the Colonials are not careful.

Prediction

I think the Colonials defend their home ice and take this one 3-2. This series never disappoints, and I think penalties will be the difference-maker. The Colonials must bring the pressure early and take advantage of the powerplay.