NEVILLE TWP, Pa. — To say that the crowd at 84 Lumber Arena was electric may be an understatement.
But in a game featuring the return to the lineup of captain Rikki Meilleur and one of the largest home crowd any of the players could remember, the Robert Morris women’s hockey team came up a bit small, falling 2-1 to conference foe Lindenwood Friday night.
The loss will be a painful one for the No. 7 Colonials, who had their cushion over second-place Syracuse cut to two points and put their program-record high national ranking in peril. But the sentiments around the game dominated the night and regardless of the final score, the Colonials had more invested in the game.
TEDDY BEAR TOSS
The Colonials used this game as a way to give back to the community in a touching way. Before the game, they told fans to show up and bring a stuffed teddy bear. After scoring their first goal, the fans were urged to throw their bear on the ice, and the bear would be donated to cancer patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
“My roommate and I came up with the idea,” said Meilleur. “We usually do a fundraiser this weekend, but we took the initiative to do the teddy bear toss this time. I went through a bit of cancer scare myself, and we wanted to do something for the children who are still battling to try to lift their spirits up.”
“It was a great cause,” added head coach Paul Colontino. “You can’t say enough about the cause. It was a cool sight to see all those bears, and it is something they will remember for a long time.”
There is no doubt that this is one of the most heartwarming stories, especially considering how close it hit to home.
It was junior forward Brittany Howard that had the lone goal for the Colonials and made it rain teddy bears in 84 Lumber Arena.
— RMU Hockey (@RMUWHockey) January 14, 2017
The initiative just so happened to fall on the same day that Meilleur was able to return to the ice from a four-game hiatus. Mueller put up two shots and saw her normal ice time in her memorable return.
“It was huge to get her back,” mentioned Colontino. “It was great to have her on the bench. She brings so much, not only on the ice but in the locker room. She was still a voice, but it was tougher at times when she was out. On the ice, her line gave some of our best looks of the night and they had some great chances on the power play.”
Meilleur mentioned that the return coinciding with the teddy bear toss was most certainly an emotional and memorable event in her career.
“Not going to lie, it was a very emotional game,” she said. “I was shaking a bit before the game, I was nervous. After my first shift the nerves kind of went away and it just felt nice to get out there and play. I had a few good chances out there, but unfortunately was unable to capitalize.”
While the team, like Meilleur, did not capitalize on the scoreboard, the return of the captain was clearly a win that was felt by the entire team.
“Rikki is awesome,” added sophomore goaltender Lauren Bailey. “She leads our team. Honestly, this is why we are doing so well — it is because of Rikki.”
FAILURE TO CAPITALIZE
As for the game, Mueller and Colontino were both quick to mention that a failure to capitalize doomed the Colonials’ ability to make this a clean sweep of a feel good story.
They outshot Lindenwood, 21-5, and had four power-play chances in the second period. When they failed to score on those opportunities, the feeling was that it was not going to be their night.
“We missed our chances to capitalize,” Colontino said in summation of their performance. “We gripped the stick pretty tight, trying to get that first one. Mis-firing, pucks going through our feet. Their goaltending was excellent, and they did a great job blocking shots. It was tough to find seams, but when we did, we had to be ready to capitalize, and we were not. When you come out of that second period with no goals, it is like it never happened, so that turned into a momentum swing for them.”
First-year forward Aneta Ledlova also returned to action after a two-game absence. … Attendance for the game was 874. … The Colonials will finish off their series with the Lions Saturday at 3:05 p.m. at 84 Lumber Arena.