Robert Morris eliminated from AHC playoffs after OT loss to Mercyhurst
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Mercyhurst goalie Brandon Wildung grew up in the hamlet of Nassau, Minn., a tiny blip just minutes from the South Dakota border.
The population? “I think 74,” Wildung said. “Well, 73 now.” The freshman excused himself from the census count since he's living nine months a year in Erie, playing hockey for Mercyhurst.
When it comes to people, that's not many. When it comes to saves in a hockey game, that's an astonishing number.
Wildung nearly made one save for every resident of his hometown Friday.
He stopped 59 shots and carried the No. 5 seed Lakers to a 4-3 overtime upset of top-seeded Robert Morris in the Atlantic Hockey Conference semifinals.
Zac Frischmon scored 3 minutes, 4 seconds into overtime to bring a stunning and distressful end to the Colonials' season.
“I told our team before the game, no regrets,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley, whose team finished 24-8-5 after outshooting Mercyhurst, 62-29. “We didn't have any regrets. Obviously, we regret not scoring, but it's not like we went out and laid an egg.”
After surrendering a pair of power-play goals in the first 7 minutes, RMU dominated but couldn't figure out a way to get a puck past Wildung consistently.
The Colonials outshot the Lakers, 27-6, in the second period, but only Cody Wydo found the net.
“We had a program record for shots, we had a program record for attempts, over a hundred,” Schooley said. “All the advanced stats people. We won the Corsi, we won the Fenwick and all that stupid stuff. We lost the game.”
The Colonials lost in painful fashion, too.
Scott Jacklin, the overtime hero in the 2014 semifinals against Niagara, put RMU ahead 3-2 with only 5:19 to play.
But Robert Morris couldn't protect the lead. With Wildung pulled in favor of a sixth attacker, Chris Bodo fired home a shot from the left edge of the crease with just 34.4 seconds showing remaining in the game.
“Goals are momentum,” Lakers coach Rick Gotkin said.
So are big saves, and Wildung provided another just 29 seconds into overtime when he sprawled to rob Greg Gibson in the deep slot.
The winning goal came late in a shift for Frischmon, who had planned to head to the bench until Nardo Nagtzaam passed him the puck.
He sent a laser from the right circle past Dalton Izyk, a shot that the sophomore goalie probably stops 19 of 20 times.
“I was actually thinking about changing,” Frischmon said. “If I had missed the net, I would have been in big trouble.”
The Colonials were Atlantic Hockey's regular-season champs and were looking to win a second consecutive playoff title. Great expectations create more painful falls.
“We had a target on our back all year,” Schooley said. “You get a target on your back as the playoff champs. You get everybody's A-game.
“(Our seniors), they played like it was an elimination game for their career. Unfortunately, it ended up being that way.”
Kevin Oklobzija is a freelance writer.