The Robert Morris Colonials salvaged a point in their weekend series at Canisius to go 1-2-1 on the young season, and while that result would have been a discourage one had it occurred over the last few years, these Colonials are dealing with some different expectations.
With 11 newcomers on the roster, including 10 freshmen, there are bound to be mistakes made and games handed away that should not have been. But one of things that has held RMU back thus far hasn’t been related to the influx of youth.
So far, the Colonials have struggled mightily with the penalty kill. Their PK unit has been successful just 66.7 percent of the time, which is second-to-last in the nation. Furthermore, they’ve exacerbated the problem by taking 30 penalties in four games.
Senior Spencer Dorowicz was a healthy scratch on Saturday at Canisius, and the penalty kill played better in his absence, going five for six on the evening. Dorowicz is one of just two returning forwards on RMU’s shorthanded unit, and has been a key face-off performer for the team in years past.
While the Saturday results were encouraging, for the team to be truly successful in that area, Dorowicz is going to have to play and play better than he has thus far. Watching Saturday’s game from the press box could certainly be an opportunity for Dorowicz to re-focus coming into the home opener against Army this weekend.
Robert Morris had the country’s third-best power play in 2015-16 and scored at a 28.32 percent clip. That total was boosted by big contributions from the outgoing senior class, as Greg Gibson and Brandon Denham were in the top 10 in the country with eight power play goals apiece.
For 2016-17, there will be some new roles. Blueliners Eric Israel and John Rey should provide plenty of offense and puck moving from the back end, but junior Brady Ferguson and senior Daniel Leavens are going to be asked to do a lot more than they have in the past. In addition, sophomore Alex Tonge and freshman Matthew Graham are getting a trial by fire as members of the top unit.
So far, it’s working, especially in Tonge’s case. After going scoreless in 26 games in 2015-16, the second-year winger has four goals and five points in four games to start his sophomore campaign, and he’s getting it done on the power play, where all four of his goals have come.
It’s a new role, but not necessarily unfamiliar territory for Tonge, who had 11 power play goals and 20 power play points with the OJHL’s Kingston Voyaguers in 2014-15.
In large part thanks to Tonge’s emergence, the Colonials have actually improve on last year’s power play numbers. They’re converting at a 29.63 percent rate and are ranked second in the country with the man advantage.
FRESHMAN STEPPING UP
One of the areas Robert Morris didn’t plan on needing to rely on young players was in goal with senior starter Dalton Izyk returning and experienced backup Andrew Pikul waiting in the wings.
Through four games, though, it seems that might not be the way it goes. Izyk was injured in a collision with winger Timmy Moore on Friday. On Saturday, he did not dress and was seen in a neck brace. The team has not provided an update on Izyk’s condition.
Pikul, meanwhile, has an 8.90 goals-against average and a .739 save percentage through two games this season. He’s had excellent numbers in small samples in the past, so this could just be a poor start, but with Izyk potentially out, it couldn’t be coming at a worse time.
The combination of Izyk’s injury and Pikul’s struggles has shifted a larger-than-expected weight onto the shoulders of Francis Marotte. RMU’s freshman netminder earned his first win in relief against RIT and made his first start Saturday, going 65 minutes while allowing two goals in a 2-2 draw.
So far, Marotte has exceeded expectations, with a 1.69 GAA and a .955 save percentage. He’s also looked extremely comfortable in his crease, with rebound control and with playing the puck — all things young goaltenders can struggle with.
It remains to be seen if Marotte can maintain this pace, what will happen with Izyk’s injury and if Pikul can rebound from his early struggles, but the emergence of a young backup can only be considered a positive for RMU.