Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Big 3: What’s led to RMU women’s hot start?

The Colonials goaltenders stand together before their home opener. -- BRIAN MITCHELL / PITTSBURGH HOCKEY DIGEST

NEVILLE TWP. — The Robert Morris women came away from their home opening series with a 1-0-1 record, pushing them to 3-0-1 on the season. The team was able to pull away with a 6-3 win to open the weekend, but a 1-1 draw on Saturday kept them from the series sweep. As the Colonials prepare to host the Vermont Catamounts this weekend there are a few things for to take into account and observe moving forward.

POWER PLAY SUCCESS

Special teams has helped play a deciding role in all four of the Colonials game this season. So far, the reason they have opened the season undefeated can be attributed to a high percentage of power play success. The Colonials entered the weekend leading the NCAA in power play goals. They added to that this weekend with two more to increase their total to seven power play goals through four games.

“We do work on it a lot at practice,” said rookie forward Jaycee Gebhard. “Any time we go on the power play we say, ‘Let’s cash.’ It is kind of our line. With (Mikaela Lowater) and (Maggie Lague) at the points, they control the power play well and settle things down.”

The Colonials have “cashed” on 25 percent of their power play opportunities this year. Last season, the Colonials put up 33 power play goals in 34 games, and scored on 22 percent of their chances. The Colonials are on pace for 58 goals on the power play this season, and with a similar success rate the big difference is clearly in the number of chances in which they have.

“We put emphasis on our special teams,” added head coach Paul Colontino. “You’re going to see a lot of special teams, especially early on, and the team has done a nice job understanding those systems. They are reaping good benefits of that.”

If they can continue to create odd-man advantages they will continue to be a highly productive and higher-scoring team than last year’s version.

PENALTY KILL ISSUES

As kind as the power play has been to the Colonials, they have given almost as many chances back by racking up penalty minutes. Coming into the weekend series, the Colonials were tied for second in the county in penalty minutes. They did not necessarily improve their ranking this weekend, either, by adding 18 total minutes in the box.

“The more penalties we get, the odds get stacked against us,” explained Colontino. “You can kill three, maybe four, maybe five but it is a whirlwind. Things get harder mentally and physically, and it takes its toll.”

The NCAA has made a concerted effort to try to take away some of the physicality of the games, and this year they warned teams that they would be more stringent in calling penalties. That could speak to why the team has had such a tough time staying away from the box.

“It is definitely bringing adversity to my game, because I am physical player, and we are a physical team,” mentioned sophomore defender Kirsten Welsh. “I guess we have to soften up a bit. All-around I have to play smarter, and we have to work on it as a team, but it does bring adversity.”

Three of the eight goals the Colonials have allowed this season have come with at least one player down. If the Colonials can adjust to the tighter calls, the team may show to be an improved defensive club as well.

DODDS OR BAILEY?

Through four games, the Colonials have shown a rotation at the goalie position. Sophomore Lauren Bailey has started two games and senior Jessica Dodds has started two as well. While some would see this as a goalie controversy, it does not look to be affecting anybody on the team as of now, and both goalies have performed well in the platoon.

Dodds has made 56 saves on 59 shots, and Bailey has made 56 saves on 61 shots. While Dodds has a slightly better save percentage, the nature of a 6-3 win in Bailey’s start was a different test than what Dodds saw in giving up one goal in a tie. Colontino is not worried about any controversy between the two, and has mentioned that he has no plans of changing what has worked so far.

“We have two goalies playing very, very well,” he said. “If one emerges at some point, we would certainly ride the hot hand, like anyone would. Until that point, it’s early on and we are seeing great things from both.”

“We win as a team,” added Welsh. “I trust whoever is behind me it doesn’t matter who it is, they are all equal in strength.”

With Bailey being a sophomore, she appears to be the future goaltender at Robert Morris beyond this year. It will be interesting to see if Colontino elects to continue to ride the experience of Dodds, or if he begins to look to the future, and gets his young and talented goaltender more repetitions as the season goes on.

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