DOMINIC HOSCHER | Reporter
Taking the ice for the final time in a regular season contest at the Lindenwood Ice Arena in Wentzville were the 21-1 Lindenwood Lions on Saturday, and they ended their stay in style with a win over Robert Morris.
The last time these two sides met was back in early October, when Lindenwood hammered the Eagles by scorelines of 5-1 and 10-0 in Illinois. Despite the comfortable victories, the Lions knew that it’s been months since they’ve seen Robert Morris, and that they’re a much different team this time around.
“We’ve seen their recent history and the way they’ve been playing, their coach has done a great job in pulling them together,” head coach Rick Zombo said. “Every weekend, no matter who we’re playing, is about how we play.”
Robert Morris proved to be tough to break in the early going, holding Lindenwood off the scoresheet for the first 15 minutes. The Lions were ahead in terms of possession, but weren’t forming the opportunities needed to beat Eagles goaltender Christopher Mallon.
These long, lengthy possessions would ultimately lead to Lindenwood finally finding a breakthrough with 4:32 left in the first period. After assists by Jake Townsend and Ryan Finnegan, Caleb Ernst got the Lions on the board with his fourth goal of the season. Robert Morris would quickly respond with a breakaway goal by Tyler Crites just over a minute later.
As they’ve done all season, Lindenwood fired back immediately after to grab the lead once more. With 2:51 left to go, freshman Colton Craigo beat Mallon on the near post after being assisted by Cade Owad and Victor Lombardi. It put the Lions back ahead at 2-1, and was Craigo’s second collegiate goal.
“It feels great to get that win and another goal,” Craigo said. “Huge thanks to my linemates, they really helped me get that one.”
The Lions played an even stronger second period. Possessions were longer and more dangerous, putting constant pressure on Mallon in goal. This pressure would lead to an early goal in the period by Lindenwood’s leading scorer Zach Mitchell, who collected his 19th goal of the season to break a four-game scoring drought.
This would be the final goal the Lions would score in the second, but their prominence in the period wouldn’t stop there. The puck would remain parked in Robert Morris’ third of the ice for most of the 20 minutes and each time they would look to put together a solid possession, Lindenwood jumped all over them to force turnover after turnover.
“We did a good job, even in the first period, of closing the gap we just didn’t finish hits,” Zombo said. “With the forecheck, our improvement was we finished our initial hits and when that’s the case, it eliminates one of the five [players], then it’s easy to sort out and sit through it.”
Heading into the third with a 3-1 lead, the Eagles finally started to challenge Lindenwood’s goalie Cooper Seedott with multiple chances in the early moments of the period. This would lead to Robert Morris being awarded a power play which they took advantage of. Forward Ryan Martin was the one to capitalize on the man-advantage, making it just a one-goal game.
A couple minutes later, it was the same old story for Lindenwood. For the second time in the game, the Lions swarmed all over the Eagles right after conceding. Mitchell bursted through Robert Morris’ defense, leaving them exposed and causing them to take a penalty. On the power play, Finnegan restored Lindenwood’s two goal lead to get the momentum right back in the hosts’ favor. The pressure of the Lions right after a goal again proved too much for the Eagles to handle.
“We worked hard getting pucks deep and keeping the pressure on them,” Craigo said. “They really had no chances to get anything going.”
Lindenwood would hold on to earn the 4-2 victory on their senior night, which ended up being their final regular season home game in Wentzville due to the cancellation of Sunday’s game. The No. 1 team in the nation improves to 23-1 on the season, and will be on the road for the remainder of the regular season starting in two weeks at Davenport University.