Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Colonials finish ‘rough’ first half poised for success in 2018

RMU Bench
The Robert Morris bench celebrates a goal against Mercyhurst on Dec. 17. -- JENN HOFFMAN

ERIE, Pa. — The Robert Morris Colonials headed into the final weekend of the first half of the 2017-18 season in an unfamiliar place: seventh.

The Colonials’ 5-7-1 start in conference play had them tied with the Bentley Falcons for the No. 7 spot in Atlantic Hockey entering this past weekend.

That was quite a bit shy of their No. 2 preseason pick in the conference and the standard they’ve set over the last four years. Robert Morris’ current run of success includes one NCAA Tournament appearance, one AHC Tournament championship, two AHC regular-season championships and four AHC Final Four appearances.

The last time the Colonials were in such a position was also the beginning of their historic stretch of success: 2013.

That season, the Colonials played Mercyhurst the final week before break and battled the Lakers to a 5-5 tie, finishing the first half fo the season with a 2-10-2 record. They then won 7-1-1 in the month of January on the way to the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth.

This year, it was again the Lakers that sat on the schedule in the final weekend of the first half, this time a home-and-home fixture with Mercyhurst visiting Neville Island on Saturday and the Colonials heading to Erie on Sunday.

The result was decisive. The Colonials swept the Lakers, winning 5-2 on Saturday and 5-3 on Sunday to put a bow on what was at times an ugly first half of the 2017-18 season. But the Colonials never wavered in the belief that they were a team that was better than their record.

“We’ve used the word a lot the last week: believe,” head coach Derek Schooley said Sunday after completing the sweep of the Lakers. “We believe that we’re a good hockey team, we just haven’t put it together yet. We’ve had three really good effort-level games and belief-level games and you can’t throw those terms around lightly.”

The Colonials will now head into their break in a vastly different position than they entered the final weekend of the first half. The four points vaulted them all the way up to tie with Holy Cross for third place in the packed-tight Atlantic Hockey conference. If the result had been flipped and the Lakers had swept the Colonials, Robert Morris would be in ninth.

Perhaps more so than boost in the standings, the sweep provided a boost of confidence that the team is on the right path toward getting back to where they want to be.

“It’s a great feeling, winning first off, and then ending a first half that was rough to us,” defenseman Eric Israel said. “We’ve just got to carry this momentum and just realize that this is how we should be playing and this is how we need to play going forward.”

Robert Morris didn’t just play better, they got a good bit deeper over the last two weekends of the first half, as well. The Colonials returned forwards Brandon Watt and Matthew Graham from multiple-week injuries and had four lines rolling against the Lakers in a way that they haven’t been able to do very much this season.

“I thought our lineup lengthened,” Schooley said. “I think our lineup was very deep and they played some critical minutes. … Graham was very good in his first weekend back.”

With some additional confidence, some added bodies, and the lessons of 2013 not all that distant, the Colonials are poised to hit the ground running in 2018. After the break, the Colonials will close their non-conference schedule with the Three Rivers Classic on Dec. 29 and 30 at PPG Paints Arena.

They resume Atlantic Hockey play on Jan. 9 against Niagara, the team currently two points ahead of them in the standings and in second place in the conference.

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