Robert Morris (14-7-3, 10-6-2 Atlantic Hockey) vs. Holy Cross (9-9-6, 6-6-6 AHC)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Hart Recreation Center, Worcester, Mass.
The playoffs before the playoffs for the Robert Morris Colonials continues this weekend in Worcester, Mass. That’s what the time between the end of January until the end of the regular season means in NCAA hockey. Every weekend is a series to better a team’s playoff seed. One team improves their chances at a better one, and one team takes a step back. So in essence, the postseason has more or less begun.
The Crusaders, the Colonials’ opponent this weekend, know this all to well too. Head coach David Berard will have his team ready to battle. After some up and down moments earlier in the year, Holy Cross has been becoming more consistent lately, taking points in six of their last seven games behind a smothering defensive system and some very good goaltending. Holy Cross has managed some high-quality wins along the way, including a three-point weekend at Air Force, a win over red-hot Canisius, and an upset of Union, a National Championship contender.
“They’re a tight-checking, very disciplined team that runs their systems and does the things that they need to do,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “They’ve got some good goaltending and it’s hard to get to the net against them. There’s no easy ice. I would imagine you’d see a very similar game in Worcester this weekend that we saw this past Saturday in Pittsburgh against Air Force. I think it could be low scoring, low shots and that’s kind of their m.o. They’re very good in their own end and they also have some guys that can finish around the net.”
The Colonials are coming off a weekend that saw them earn a split with Atlantic Hockey leader Air Force in a playoff-type atmosphere all weekend long. Although the young Colonials got off to a slow start early on Friday night, the team rose to the occasion on Saturday, delivering one of their best performances of the year in a gritty and physical 2-1 victory. Leading the way in terms of motivation and how to go about the task of winning these types of games against a highly motivated, highly skilled team was the group of captains for the Colonials, a group that has helped a large number of younger players acclimate to the pace of what they can expect as the real postseason approaches.
“I thought our seniors did an outstanding job in communicating what we needed to do to be successful,” Schooley said. “The team heard a little bit more from the captains than they normally do. They explained to the group what we needed to do and that they needed to take a step up in our play and do things differently and the guys responded.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RMU: It was sophomore Alex Tonge, one-third of the high-powered top line for the Colonials, that came through with two goals on Saturday night to raise his total to 13 on the season.
But beyond the scoresheet, the win on Saturday was contributed to in great part by freshman Daniel Mantenuto, an unhealded forward who comes into the weekend with six points, but could be on the verge of good things as his scoring opportunities have become better and more frequent as the season has progressed. Mantenuto was a key factor in the faceoff circle and in other areas on Saturday night.
“I thought Manny was outstanding on Saturday night,” Schooley said. “He was really good on faceoffs, he played with a lot of energy, he competed hard and got a lot of chances. I think in the long run, he’s going to score. He was a point producer in juniors and I would imagine as soon as he gets the monkey off his back that he’s got going right now, you’re going to see him scoring in bunches. He’s done a very unheralded job in the defensive zone. There’s another step for him to take before the end of this year, but I have no doubt that he’ll be able to do that.”
Holy Cross: The Crusaders are led by junior forward Danny Lopez who has managed 13 goals and 11 assists on the year so far. Right behind him, junior T.J. Moore and senior Mike Barrett comprise a major portion of the offensive attack with 21 and 17 points respectively. At the back, keep your eyes on sophomore defenseman Spencer Trapp who was named to the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team last season. Trapp has been good for 1 goal and 14 assists so far having already surpassed his point total from last year.
RMU: The Colonials took a hard-fought home split with Air Force, losing 6-2 on Friday while rallying for a 2-1 win on Saturday
Holy Cross: Wound up with back-to-back 3-3 ties hosting Mercyhurst last week on Friday and Saturday.
RMU: Francis Marotte (12-4-2, .943 save percentage) saw his first early exit from a game on Friday night in the loss to Air Force. He was given the start the following night, and got right back in the saddle with a solid performance in the Colonials 2-1 win on Saturday. In his first year, Marotte has shown an uncanny knack for having a short memory for both goals against and a rough start and still ranks in the top five in the country in save percentage and ranks sixth in goals against.
“It was his first time being pulled in a game and it was one of those games where I didn’t think he was as sharp as he could have been,” Schooley said. “You can’t blame the goals completely on him. They weren’t one shot goals. But he wasn’t as sharp as he had been and I thought the team needed a bit of a wake up call. I think that’s good for him that he rebounded really well and was able to shake off an average performance and take a step forward.”
Holy Cross: For the Crusaders, junior Paul Berrafato (9-9-6, .900 save percentage) looks to see action both nights. That may seem like a stretch to predict, but Berrafato has played in all 24 games for Holy Cross this year. And that is testament to how good he can be, he takes up a good bit of net and can make highlight reel saves on a routine basis.
“He’s been a great goalie for a couple of years now,” Schooley said. “We need to challenge him, we need to get to the front of the net and get traffic around him and we can’t pass up any shots because they’re so tight defensively that we might not get as many shots.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
At Stake: Both teams need these four points, or not to lose these four points, a swing that could leave either team on the outside looking in with the weeks winding down.
Robert Morris comes into the weekend fourth in the standings, four points could help solidify their home ice and first round bye position. While four points for Holy Cross would help gain a stronger foothold on home ice should they need to play in the first round.
All-Time: The Colonials lead the all-time series with a record of 7-4-1
Bold Prediction: There’s what you need, what you earn and what you actually get after the hockey gods have had their say. Remember the Mercyhurst series the Colonials played a few weeks ago? They played well enough to earn two wins and a weekend sweep but the luck simply did not go their way as they wound up with a tie and a loss.
Here’s to karma coming back around this week for Robert Morris on the road, as the defense keeps up it’s steady play, the scoring depth chips in with important goals and Francis Marotte keeps on keeping on in a hard fought weekend where they come away with the win on Friday and a tie on Saturday.