Preview: Colonials look to ground Falcons in AHA quarterfinals

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Preview: Colonials look to ground Falcons in AHA quarterfinals

Photo credit: David Auth

Photo credit: David Auth

Photo credit: David Auth

Photo credit: David Auth

Adam Melluso, Contributor

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WALTHAM, Ma. — The Robert Morris men’s hockey team (14-20-2, 11-15-2 AHA) will look to punch their ticket to Buffalo this weekend as they take on the Bentley University Falcons (16-13-5, 15-9-4 AHA) in a best-of-three Atlantic Hockey Association quarterfinals series. Before these two teams square off in game one on Friday night in Massachusetts, let’s take a look at what each team possesses as they look to earn a spot in the semifinals.

Recapping Robert Morris

The Colonials are coming off a tightly-fought opening round series against the Holy Cross Crusaders (10-21-5) this past weekend on Neville Island, sweeping the Crusaders 2-0 and winning by even tighter scores of 1-0 and 3-2 respectively. Nick Prkusic scored the game-winner on a breakaway top-shelf wrist shot in the opening matchup and Francis Marotte played exceptional in goal to lead the Colonials to an opening game victory. Though Holy Cross fought back in game two, taking the lead 1-0 on a goal by Ryan Leibold and then tying the game at two in the third on a shot from Kevin Darrar, Marotte and the staunch Colonial defense kept them at bay and fought off wave after wave of Crusader attackers and secured a firm victory to send them to this weekend’s quarterfinals.

Scouting the Bentley Falcons

The Falcons received a bye into this quarterfinal series after regular season play concluded, finishing high above their previous season’s standing in second place, over the defending champions Air Force (16-13-5), and just under first-place AIC (18-15-1). The Falcons finished conference play this year with a much-improved 15-9-4 record. But perhaps what showed the grit and determination of these Falcons the most was their tough last season series against the Army Black Knights (12-18-7), who themselves will take on the aforementioned AIC Yellow Jackets this weekend in a quarters matchup just down the road in Springfield.

The first and second periods in the opening game saw no scoring at all, but Bentley struck fast and quickly at the 4:20 and 8:28 marks of the final period on goals from Brendan Hamblet and a power play tally from Will Garin. The Falcons kept Army’s offense frustrated all game long and the Knights were only able to get on the board with just under 5 minutes left in the contest. The second contest and regular-season finale, however, would prove to be even more of a nail biter, as Army proved they wanted revenge in the rematch. The Knights got the first goal of the contest at the 13:06 mark off of the stick of Mason Krueger, with assists going to Matt Berkovitz and Brendan Souice.

With that, Army headed off after 20 up by one. Bentley would respond just 49 seconds into period two on the power play when Tanner Jago put one in the back of the net. But once again Army wouldn’t go away and on their own power play opportunity at 7:13, Krueger got his second of the game to give the Knights a 2-1 lead. Bentley got two more in the third to get back in front 3-2 but couldn’t hang on for the win as Army tied it again at 11:12 on a goal from Dalton MacAfee. With that, the game ended in a draw and proved that while Bentley may have squandered a lead in game two, the power play is potent.

Players to watch

Francis Marotte (RMU): Marotte has had his troubles this year at times, but always seems to shine in postseason play every time he’s on the ice, currently averaging a stellar .906 save percentage. If Marotte stays sharp and plays as well as he did in the Holy Cross series, RMU will just need solid defensive and offensive play in front of him to secure a spot in the semifinals

Luke Santerno and Drew Callin (Bentley): Despite being pains in the sides of RMU at the end of their January season series last year, two of the biggest returning names for the Falcons have not lost their scoring touch offensively. Santerno has been on fire on the ice, posting 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points in 34 games. Callin has been equally impressive, posting 10 goals and 23 assists for 33 points in 34 games. With the point-per-game mentality both these players possess, the Colonials will need to stop them at every turn and especially if they are put together on the potent Bentley power-play unit.

Prediction

Seeing as how RMU took stiff, tough losses to the Falcons during earlier this year, losing 5-2 and 5-1 in both games in mid-January, the Colonials always seem to step up around playoff time and will do it again this year. However, this time they will have to earn their spot in the semis and I believe it will not be so easy, rendering a split series in which RMU takes game one 4-2, Bentley holds on for a 3-2 win on Saturday to tie the series, before RMU sends themselves one step closer to the AHA title with a 5-3 win in a deciding game three. I feel that while they don’t have the presence of a huge clutch scorer like Brady Ferguson was last year, the Colonials and coach Derek Schooley have enough of a mix of veterans and young guns to prove they are for real in this year’s tournament.

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