After a week off following their second-place performance in the 2017 Three Rivers Classic, the Robert Morris Colonials will jump into their Atlantic Hockey stretch run Tuesday night at Niagara as they look to repay an opening night 4-3 loss to their longstanding rivals.
For Robert Morris, the stage seems set once again for another successful run towards the postseason following a first half that has had some ups and downs, but ended an impressive stretch of play.
The recent upturn was punctuated by a three game winning streak that saw the Colonials sweep conference rival Mercyhurst in a home and home series and an impressive 5-0 win over Lake Superior State in the opening round of the Three Rivers Classic. And though the Providence Friars were just one goal better in the championship game, it was not for the lack of effort on the Colonial side as they had the better of the play over the final 40 minutes.
“I think it’s the belief in our group and the belief in our team that creates the energy and the passion that makes you play as hard as you can,” head coach Derek Schooley said. “We believe that we are going to win every hockey game where before, we had hoped we would win every game.”
It will be a 13 game grind to the finish, but Schooley and team have been down the road before and know the pathway to find success.
“We just have to focus on one game at a time and not look at the big picture and make sure that we’re putting our best game together heading into the playoffs,” he said. ” You can’t look too far into the future, it’s just one game at a time and make sure you’re prepared for that game.”
SCOUTING THE PURPLE EAGLES
Niagara has turned heads and raised expectation levels with a first-half performance that has seen them eclipse last season’s win total while at the same time keeping pace at or near the top of the Atlantic Hockey standings. First-year head coach and North Allegheny native Jason Lammers has taken a team with potential and given it a fresh start. Combine that with a healthy lineup and some new philosophies and it becomes clear what an impact he’s had in the first half of the season.
“They’ve got a new coach, and obviously that breeds change,” Schooley said. “With that, the players that were already talented had been given a fresh start with a new identity and a new culture and they’ve embraced it and have continued to roll. We’re really excited to play them again because we want to see how far we’ve come since game one and we want to give a better effort than we gave in game one and see how things match up. We believe our group is primed to take a very big step in the second half as far as standings and the climb goes but we’re playing a team that so far hasn’t had a down tick in their results. So it’ll be good to see how we’ve advanced from game one to game 22.”
The Eagles bring some top level talent to the equation as evidenced by senior forward Derian Pelouffe, who has accumulated 25 points thus far and Tanner Lomsnes brings a scorer’s touch as well. They lead an attack that produces nearly three goals a game and scores on the power play at over at 22 percent clip.
“Derian Pelouffe has always been a guy that’s had a tremendous amount of talent. He’s been a guy that’s had some injury problems and now he’s finally healthy. Tanner Lomsnes has also been having a very good year and he was another one that was kind of in and out of the lineup last year as well. They’ve got a lot of players with a lot of potential that are now finally healthy and able to sustain what they started in league play.”
In the middle of the Colonials’ resurgence of late has been the play of the top pair of defenseman consisting of captain Alex Bontje and freshman Nick Jenny. The two seem to be a near perfect complimentary match that read each other well and get the most out of their considerable talents when paired together.
Jenny had an impressive goal in the Colonials victory over Lake Superior State on a play when he joined the offense down low, picked his spot and made no mistake and had assists on the weekend too. His emergence has helped Bontje to focus on doing the things he does best, disrupting the opponent offensive flow and hitting anything that moves.
“Nick’s just a puck moving defenseman that had to learn how to play in his own end and get his habits from junior hockey to college hockey,” Schooley said. “He’s really done a good job since he’s been in the lineup of staying in the lineup and not giving his spot up. Alex Bontje has always been a good defenseman with a guy that could join the offense and can make plays. It offsets him. He’s a very good defender and a very reliable one and with Nick being able to make good first passes, we haven’t had to play in our end as much. They’ve been a very good pair for the seven games that they’ve been together recently.”
BRADY BEING BRADY
Senior forward Brady Ferguson had been having a reasonably average year for a part of the season’s first half, but average by his standards isn’t quite good enough. But his penchant for timely goals of highlight-reel quality has been on full display over the course of the past five games. Schooley believes Ferguson has been aided by others that have stepped up their games recently and relieved the pressure to score he may have been feeling.
“Brady just has to be Brady,” Schooley said. “He doesn’t have to do too much and he doesn’t have to be Superman. We’ve had some guys take some steps on our other lines with Luke Lynch and Michael Louria, which relieved some pressure off him and I think he realized that he was putting too much pressure on himself. He’s had a really good turn around since the Penn State game. This might be the best complete hockey he’s played in his four years. I think he’s playing a little more freer and a little more looser and he’s just going out and playing hockey.”
Once again. look for a one-goal game as these teams love to get after it and get up and down the rink. This time, Francis Marotte is one save better than his opponent and Ferguson delivers a game winner in a 4-3 Colonials’ win.