The Robert Morris University Colonials are heading to the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Led by a season-high 36-save shutout from goaltender Raygan Kirk, RMU defeated Syracuse Orange 1-0 in the College Hockey America championship game held at the Erie Insurance Arena in Pennsylvania.
Backstopping the Colonials to the narrow victory was the Ste. Anne, Manitoba product, who will now have a chance to play for a national championship at the NCAA Tournament, set to run from March 15-20 after all teams are revealed on Sunday evening.
“It definitely felt surreal,” Kirk told Game On. “I don’t think it fully sunk in for me until we were off the ice and everyone was like, “wow we just did that.” The next step is playing the top-ranked team in the quarter finals next Monday or Tuesday. That is the furthest RMU has ever made it, but we hope to go even further this year and make it to the Frozen Four.”
Saturday’s CHA title was the third in RMU history and first since 2017. It also marked the fifth-straight season to which the Colonials participated in the CHA championship game, however, after three-straight losses, Robert Morris was able to skate away as the victor from the 2020-21 season.
Kirk was a huge part of the team’s success, both on Saturday and throughout the season. She turned aside all 36 shots she faced from a very dangerous Syracuse squad, including a monstrous side-to-side slide on a second-period penalty kill, before displaying some fantastic work between the pipes in the game’s dying seconds. Kirk joins Jessica Dodds (2013-17) as the only Colonials netminder to earn a shutout in the CHA championship game.
— Mitch (@PHD_Mitch) March 7, 2021
Surprisingly, the only goal of the game came just 7:27 into the opening period off the stick of Gillian Thompson, who capitalized on a weird bounce off the glass and dasher board behind the Syracuse net. She banked in the rebound for what turned out to be game-winner and the only goal scored on the evening.
Interestingly, Kirk hadn’t actually played for the Colonials in three games, as head coach Paul Colontino opted to continue to divvy up starts between his ‘three-headed monster’ in the blue paint. First starting senior Molly Singewald, before playing junior Arielle DeSmet and then turning to the Manitoban sophomore Kirk in the final, the coach’s decision certainly paid off, as all three goaltenders earned important victories.
“We’ve got some crazy good goaltenders,” Colontino said post-game. “The three of them all pitched in and won a game this week. They’re just strong, they support each other so well. They support each other, that’s a first for me. The decisions themselves become extremely tough. The decision to put Raygan in was a coaching decision that the staff and everyone made. We had a plan going into the tournament and we stuck to it, and it worked out for us. We know that we’re real lucky in the sense we have three outstanding goaltenders.”
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Finishing the abbreviated 2020-21 season with a 7-2-1 record, a dazzling .945 save percentage and a 1.68 goals against average, the 5-foot-8 sophomore certainly did her part in helping her teammates to the CHA title. But according to Kirk, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as roughly one year ago, the team and school was forced to shut down due to COVID-19. Even playing just one game at that point seemed unimaginable. But now to be CHA champs, Kirk has been sure to soak it all in.
“I am so incredibly proud of the group we have this year,” she said. “No one on the roster had won a championship yet so we were all able to experience it together. Back in August we had no idea if we’d even have a season, so we just tried to play every game like it could be our last. Every person gave it their all out on the ice for the final game. The energy through the bench was contagious.”
The soon-to-be 20-year-old member of Canada’s U-22 Women’s Team, Kirk played in 26 games overall in 2019-20 and had a goals against average of 2.05 and a save percentage of .925. She had a record of 15-8-1 and was the team’s No. 1 goaltender by the end of the season. Kirk set a top-five record for single-season save percentage in RMU history in 2019-20, was named the CHA All-Rookie Goaltender of the Year and has also received RMU Athletics Student Athlete of the Week honours.