College hockey is all about getting into a rhythm sometimes and the Robert Morris Colonials will be getting the opportunity to find one over the next five weeks as critical conference action lies straight ahead. The weeks off and uneven portion of the schedule has now been concluded and it’s time for mometum to be created and moved into the following weekend.
This weekend, Robert Morris takes to the road for two games against the American International Yellow Jackets, which have been improving program under second-year coach Eric Lang and now find themselves in the thick of the Atlantic Hockey standings.
The Colonials are in the thick of the battle for home ice and a first-round bye as well and are coming off a three-point home weekend against a Bentley squad that matched them in intensity all weekend long as the Colonials managed a dramatic, come-from-behind, 3-2, overtime victory last Friday night while watching Bentley come back to steal a point in a 3-3 tie on Saturday.
“I didn’t think we were 100 percent on our game as we had been,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “But I thought we did everything we needed to do to be successful. That was a series that could have gone either way, either team could have had four points there. There wasn’t a lot of ice and it was challenging to get space.
“I thought we could have got to our game a bit quicker. It’s been tough for us with all our off weekends and the starting and stopping, to find some rhythm, and now we’ll find it in the next five weeks playing every weekend. We’ve got the ability to do some very special things down the stretch here but every game is going to be challenging”
SCOUTING THE YELLOW JACKETS
Don’t look now, but Lang’s unique assembly of a college hockey team, created by fusing European elements en masse to blend with a new system, is starting to pay dividends, as evidenced by their recent sweep of Holy Cross and shutout win at Canisius, giving them three points in four games against the two teams tied for the conference lead.
They’re currently led in scoring by a pair of blueliners in freshman Brennan Kapchak and sophomore Janis Jaks. Sophomore Blake Christiansen leads the way for the Jackets with nine goals. In the net, Stefano Durante has been rock solid in 18 starts, posting a 2.28 GAA after taking the starting job away from Zacharias Skog.
The Colonials earned a sweep in a November series at RMU Island Sports Center against AIC, however a sweep this weekend may prove to be a bit more difficult as the Yellow Jackets look to have a bit more confidence and will be looking for revenge on home ice.
“They’ve got a lot of offense from their blue line, they join the play,” Schooley said. “They’ve got a very good power play, they do some things down lot to create offense. They’re a young hockey team and they’re getting better. Eric Lang has done a very good job with that group. This is a different AIC team than we’ve seen in recent years. We were fortunate enough to get four points out of them when they came here in November and I’m sure they’d like to return the favor. This is a team that’s right there with us in the standings but they’ve played a few more games than we have and we have games in hand on them and we have to take advantage of them and get some separation between us and them.”
The weekend ahead starts a four-game stretch for the Colonials that will feature unique starting times to say the least. The two battles versus the Yellow Jackets will both start at 2:05 PM on both Friday and Saturday, while the next weekend at Sacred Heart will see them start at 10:30 AM on Friday and 2:05 on Saturday.
“The next four games for us are going to be at weird times,” Schooley remarked. “I think we’ve got to get adjusted to it a little bit quicker. They’ve played a few more afternoon games but with that being said, we’ve played a few afternoon games as well and done very well but we have not played as early as two o’clock. We practice in the morning and we’ve had some very good practices from the 10:30 to the 1 o’clock time frame, so we feel that practicing that early should give us an advantage when we’re playing early in the afternoon or even late in the morning as we are at Sacred Heart.
The top line of Brady Ferguson, Alex Tonge and Timmy Moore have been on fire lately, accounting for the majority of points from the Colonial forwards in recent games. However, to make a serious playoff charge requires scoring depth and the Colonials have the players to provide it. However a spark may be necessary sooner rather than later.
“We need a few guys to get going. We need Matthew Graham and Daniel Mantenuto to get going. They’ve got a combined three goals between them and last year they had nine between them. They have been playing well in their own end and playing with a lot of energy but they just haven’t been finishing. Another guy that has taken a little bit of a drought lately has been Spencer Dorowicz. We need to get our second and third line centers going. They have not been playing poorly but they haven’t been getting results for their effort. They’ve scored at every level they’ve played at, from midget to junior and they’ve scored here in the past, we just need them to start scoring in the present.”
The Colonials celebrated a historic moment in program history on Saturday night as the 500th game in Robert Morris Men’s hockey history was played. It’s been a history that has seen the program, built entirely from scratch with no one main benefactor, achieve two regular season Atlantic Hockey championships, an Atlantic Hockey tournament championship, five conference tournament championship game appearances in combined College Hockey America and Atlantic Hockey tournaments, and an NCAA tournament appearance.
“I’ve got a daughter that was born the same time as our hockey program. She’s 14 and my hockey program is 14. You watch it grow and you watch it improve and mature. A lot of great things and a lot of great memories have happened to put Robert Morris hockey on the map and I don’t think we’re done, I’m looking forward to the next 500 games.”
This is a series where the Colonials play very well and still not come out with four points as AIC now has the skill and talent to make any result possible, as well as the cohesiveness that has been missing over the years. The Colonials will be prepared and ready to get off to a better start and take a 5-3 win on Friday while a determined Yellow Jacket squad makes adjustments and take a 3-2 win on Saturday.