Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Big 3: RMU women looking for more offense

Jessica Gazzola and Rikki Meilleur celebrate a goal against Mercyhurst. -- BRIAN MITCHELL / PITTSBURGH HOCKEY DIGEST

NEVILLE TWP. — The Robert Morris women’s hockey team is out to a fantastic start, with a 7-1-4 record through 12 games and a 3-0-1 record in College Hockey America play that has the Colonials sitting in first place. Furthermore, they cracked the national polls this week for the first time this season, coming in No. 10 in the USA Hockey coaches poll.

But despite the hot start, the Colonials still feel they have work to do, especially offensively. After their three-point weekend against Syracuse last week, their goals-against average as a team is an even 2.00, thanks to outstanding goaltending from Lauren Bailey and Jessica Dodds and strong defensive play across the board.

As I wrote Saturday, the Colonials have also been involved in a ton of close games this year. Part of that is their propensity to hang around even when being outplayed due to their defense and goaltending.

But the other part of it has been because of a lack of killer instinct offensively. The Colonials have had several chances to blow some games wide open, but with the exception of a 6-3 victory over RPI in their home opener, the RMU ladies have skated to the wire in all of their contests.

It’s something that’s definitely in the minds of the team’s offensive players, especially as they watch the physical toll of blocking shots and tough battles in front of the net add up for the defenders.

“[Friday], I missed a wide-open net and we ended up tying,” said talented first-year forward Jaycee Gebhard. “In the second period [Saturday], I missed the net. It was the same thing. We were thinking if we would have scored, we would have won [easily]. … We definitely want to put teams away earlier than later.”

Head coach Paul Colontino says a little more production offensively is the next step forward for his team as they prepare for a long run in the CHA this year.

“Our next evolution is to amp up the scoring a little bit,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities to broaden leads. Then, it becomes a completely different game. We’ve got to work on our offense while maintaining everything we’re doing defensively.”

OPPORTUNITY TO PILE ON

The Colonials will certainly get the chance to pile on offensively this weekend against RIT. The Tigers are a league-worst 1-11 and have allowed 45 goals against this season for an average of 3.75 goals per game, fourth-worst in the entire country.

It’ll be an opportunity to see if the offense can open up a big lead and finally give the defense and the goaltending something of a night off compared to the pressure-packed one-goal games that have been the norm.

It’s also a critical four points for Robert Morris to pick up. Only two points separate the first-place Colonials from the third-place Syracuse Orange. The top two teams in regular season play will earn a bye into the semifinals of the conference tournament, so it’s imperative to stay in one of the top two spots.

While the top half of the league is extremely competitive, Lindenwood and RIT are expected to struggle all season. It’s imperative for the Colonials to come away with weekends against the lesser lights with four points in order to keep pace and shore up points for the inevitable tough weekends to come.

“All these games count towards March,” sophomore defender Maggie LaGue said. “We can’t just let one game get the best of us.”

FINDING THE OFFENSE

Although Gebhard was critical of her own misses, the Robert Morris top line, which includes her, Brittany Howard and Amber Rennie, has been outstanding. They’re among the top five scoring lines in the country and Howard, with 16 points, is eighth in the nation in scoring.

While they certainly have had a few more chances that they could have buried, the big key for the Colonials will be getting the second line of Aneta Ledlova, Sarah Quaranta and Mackenzie Johnston going.

After putting up 25 and 24 points a season ago respectively, Johnston and Quaranta have combined for just one goal and one assist this season. Johnston’s goal was a big one — a third-period game-winner against arch-rival Mercyhurst. But the Colonials will need more from that unit going forward.

The key could be Ledlova, a talented first-year winger from the Czech Republic. With a goal and three assists, she’s the most-productive player of the trio so far and it seems that she’s been close to breaking through for even more. She’s showed a willingness to do battle in the tough areas of the ice and as she gets acclimated more to the college game, Ledlova projects to be a future difference-maker for the Colonials.

COLONIALS NOTES

The Colonials play at RIT at 6 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. … Dodds was named CHA Goaltender of the Week. … The Colonials also received votes in the USCHO.com poll this week.

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