PITTSBURGH - Robert Morris knew it was going to take an above the line performance to knock off No. 5 Miami (Ohio) in the championship of the inaugural Three Rivers Classic.
Eric Levine gave them something sensational.
The senior goaltender stopped all 51 shots, registering a few spectacular saves among them, as Robert Morris upset Miami 1-0 to win the first Confluence Cup.
"I think that had to be one of the single best goaltending performances weâ€™ve had in the history of our program," head coach Derek Schooley said. "The best part about it is he made it look easy."
Nothing got past Levine all weekend. Fresh off a 48-save 6-0 shutout against Penn State Friday night, Levine was tested early against Miami. The Redhawks quickly tilted the ice, maintaining possession in the Robert Morris zone for much of the first period. Levine was solid, and the Robert Morris defense locked in to prevent Miami from getting above average chances.
â€œThey do a good job of keeping us to the outside and not giving us any second chances," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said.
Miami also was in lockdown mode, disrupting Robert Morris in the neutral zone so that the Colonials couldn't maintain possession. By the second period, the two teams were almost trying to will the puck into the net. Robert Morris had two 5-on-3 advantages in the second period, but couldn't put the puck past Ryan McKay. Miami had its chances, too, getting four power plays, but Levine was up to the task, including using a pokecheck to stop a shorthanded breakaway.
"It seemed like, both ways, there was an invisible wall behind the goalie," Schooley said. "We hit the crossbar early. They hit the post. Thatâ€™s hockey. We found a way to get it done."
With 12:06 left in regulation, Robert Morris finally broke through, and it came from the least likely source. Freshman forward Brandon Denham parked himself in front of the net as defenseman Tyler Hinds carried the puck into the Miami zone. Suddenly, the puck popped out in front of the net.
â€œI just turned around and whacked at it," Denham said. "It found the back of the net.â€
The puck just trickled over the goal line, giving Denham his first collegiate hockey goal.
"Brandonâ€™s been gripping his stick because he hasnâ€™t been scoring," Schooley said. "What a time to get your first career goal."
It would be all Robert Morris would need. After all, they still had Levine. If not for him, Miami likely would have tied it later in the third.
Not long after Denham's goal, Miami was on the attack. Levine was caught in the crease moving one way as Curtis McKenzie - who scored the only goal in Miami's 1-0 win over Ohio State on Friday - put a shot on net. Levine snagged the puck with his glove hand and just barely kept it out of the net.
â€œI was actually caught looking the wrong way,â€ Levine said. â€œOne of the things you learn very early in goaltending is to always keep your hands out. Not going to tell you thatâ€™s how I planned it, but sometimes you have to be lucky. Once I found it in, I did take a look over and just kept it out of the goal line.â€
The play was so close that Blasi inquired about a video review. The officials conferred for a moment before allowing it to stand without a review.
â€œApparently in the Atlantic Hockey League, they donâ€™t review goals," Blasi said. "That was the explanation I got.â€
Levine had a couple more big saves in him, deflecting pucks and even falling on a few perilously close to the net. With 1:40 left, RMU defenseman Evan Moore was penalized for interference. With just over a minute left, Miami pulled its goalie. And with 20 seconds left, Adam Brace flicked the puck deep into the Miami zone to ice the penalty and clinch Robert Morris' win.
"I told them earlier this morning that they wanted to put themselves in a position to know what it feels like to win and win a championship so they know what it feels like come playoff time," Schooley said. "It just shows a lot of character and guts by our hockey team in figuring out how to win a game where youâ€™re out shot and out-played at times."
Over two games, Levine faced 99 shots. He stopped every single one, giving Robert Morris a marquee win and a trophy in a tournament that they hope is around for years to come.
"I donâ€™t think you could have written a better script," Schooley said. "Pretty gratifying to see the crowd that we had here and the games that we had."
- Levine and Cody Wydo were named to the all-tournament team. Miami defensemen Matthew Caito, Steven Spinell, Ohio State forward Ryan Dzingel, and Penn State forward Casey Bailey were also recognized. Levine was named the tournament MVP.
- Penn State rebounded from its 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Robert Morris Friday night to claim a 5-4 win over Ohio State. The Nittany Lions took a commanding 3-1 lead and held on for the win. Forward Casey Bailey had two goals and an assist.
- Ohio State, which hasn't won since December 1, registered the event's first hat trick. Forward Ryan Dzingel capped off the 3-goal night by slipping the puck past Matthew Skoff midway through the third period.
- Attendance was 10,797 for the second day, pushing total attendance to 22,460. The previous best for a Robert Morris game downtown was 6,957 against RIT in December 2010.
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com.