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RMU hockey wins, advances to NCAA Tournament

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 9:49 p.m.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Robert Morris completed the improbable rise from league doormats to the Atlantic Hockey Association championship with a 7-4 victory over defending-champion Canisius on Saturday night.

Cody Wydo scored three goals and Greg Gibson found the net twice as the fifth-seeded Colonials earned the AHA automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Robert Morris (19-17-5) likely will head to St. Paul, Minn., as the 16th seed and play the University of Minnesota, the nation's No. 1-ranked team, on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center.

“I imagine we'll be playing against the whole state,” RMU coach Derek Schooley said.

They'll be just fine in the Gophers backyard, according to Canisius coach Dave Smith.

“We were in their shoes last year — you listen to their whoops and hollers and it's an exciting time,” Smith said. “The league champion from Atlantic Hockey will arrive prepared to take on anybody.”

The championship is the first for the RMU hockey program. The Colonials had reached the title game in College Hockey America twice — and lost both in overtime. In 2007, they fell 5-4 to Alabama-Huntsville and were defeated 3-2 by Bemidji State in 2009. When the CHA folded, RMU joined Atlantic Hockey for the 2010-11 season, but this was the first time the Colonials reached the AHA Final Four in Rochester.

“Well, that was a long-time coming,” Schooley said. “Our program is 10 years old, and we've put in a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, tears.

“We always tell our guys not to look back, but we're going to celebrate a little bit. I want our guys to enjoy this.”

Indeed, they should enjoy. Considering RMU sat in last place in the AHA on Jan. 1 with a 2-12-2 overall record, the rise to the top was rather unexpected. Schooley gave the credit to his team for its perseverance.

“We were the best last-place team in the nation,” Schooley said. “Our players worked and believed, and when you couldn't believe they still believed.”

Wydo scored a goal in the first and second periods, and RMU took a 2-1 lead into the final period. The Colonials ended up in a shootout against the determined-to-rally Griffins but never gave up the lead.

“I wanted to lock it down,” Schooley said. “I guess that meant outscoring them.”

Gibson scored the two biggest goals. He broke a 2-2 tie at 1:31 of the third, just 15 seconds after Shane Conacher had tied the score.

Then, when Chris Rumble's power-play goal cut the RMU lead to 5-4 at 12:35, Gibson scored again, overpowering goalie Tony Capobianco with a slap shot from the left circle at 13:04.

“Every time we thought we were up, we were back down and that's just a credit to them,” Rumble said.

For the guy who centers the team's energy line, Gibson came up big on the scoresheet, and his winger, Matt Cope, also scored a goal.

“They were pretty big,” Gibson said. “I give a lot of credit to the guys I play with (wingers Brandon Denham and Cope). They open up a lot of room. It's been working pretty well.”

Wydo was named tournament MVP (he scored four times to reach the 30-goal plateau) and surely turned some heads.

“The NHL doesn't pay me to scout, but I can tell you Cody Wydo was the best player in this tournament,” Smith said. “He was the most dangerous when he got the puck. He's an electric player with dynamic skills.”

Gibson wasn't far behind on the danger scale.

Wydo, Gibson and goalie Dalton Izyk (27 saves on Saturday) were named to the All-Tournament team. Izyk is just the second freshman to win the honor in the 11-year history of the AHA event.

Kevin Oklobzija is a freelance writer.

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