The CSU Rams club hockey team was defeated Wednesday morning on a last-second goal, 5-4 by the Grand Valley State Lakers in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division-II National Championship tournament in Fort Meyers, Fla.
It was only game one of three in pool-play, so the Rams still have a chance to come back and make the semi-finals.
However, it was still a heartbreaking loss for a team with high expectations. The players declined to comment on it afterwards.
“Grand Valley State and Davenport were the two teams that everyone was expecting to see in the championship,” coach Joe Sharrock said over the phone. “We’re not out of it yet. That’s just the way tournaments go.”
The game went back and forth through the beginning to the final seconds of the third period until CSU quickly fell behind.
Forward AJ Hau tied the game up for the Rams early in the second period. The Lakers scored a power-play goal, and then CSU’s Casey Shermerhorn tied it right back up to make it 2-2. GVS then scored another power-play goal to end the second period with a 3-2 lead.
The Lakers added another goal midway through the third period to increase the lead to 4-2. Derek O’Donnell and AJ Hau kept the Rams in the game with two consecutive goals in the last five minutes to tie it up.
In the closing seconds of the game, a GVC player appeared to drag CSU’s Tim Stiller to the ice.
The referee started to raise his hand for a penalty, but then waved it off. With two seconds left, a Laker’s player bounced the puck off of a CSU defender into the goal.
“That last-second goal was a real kick in the nuts and I’m glad we have a day and a bit to get that loss out of our heads and get focused,” Sharrock said. “It’s so hard to rebound or even comprehend losing a game with two seconds left on a fluke like that.”
Still, Sharrock said that GVS was a great team that he has a lot of respect for.
“Their coach even came up and told me afterward, ‘You guys didn’t deserve to lose on a fluke like that’ (talking about the referee and the bouncing puck). I don’t like losing at all, but their program is a class act,” he said.
CSU now has to beat Florida and Connecticut today and Friday, and Grand Valley State has to lose at least one game for the Rams to make the semi-finals.
The Rams play the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the host team, tonight at 7:15.
“I’m sure that they’re going to have a crowded barn,” Rams forward Tim Stiller said in an interview on Tuesday. “Our team usually enjoys playing in front of people, so it should be a good game.”
Sports reporter Brandon Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.