There must be something about the city of Rochester, New York this time of year that the Robert Morris Colonials enjoy.
Having clinched their fifth straight postseason trip to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, the Colonials will be looking to take home their second tournament championship in five tries as they take on the Mercyhurst Lakers Friday afternoon. Should they prove victorious, they face the winner of the Air Force-Canisius match up on Friday night for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament.
“This is our fifth straight year in Rochester,” Head coach Derek Schooley said. “We were fortunate to win the first time and I think we’re hungry to win and we’re hungry to feel what it’s like to raise the trophy again. We put ourselves in a good position down the stretch here. We didn’t take the route that we wanted to, but we’re still here. If we put it together, for 60 minutes on Friday and again on Saturday, then we’re continuing to practice next week.”
To put themselves in their current situation, the Colonials managed to put all phases of play together, extending the 60-minute efforts against Bentley, while making some special teams improvements in their weekend sweep at Holy Cross. Last weekend, they came away with three power-play goals on eight chances while stopping eight of nine Holy Cross power plays.
To put it simply, Schooley’s team has been playing it’s game so far in this year’s playoffs and his team’s efforts are approaching a perfect time to hit a crescendo this weekend.
“There’s always been something missing this season,” Schooley said. “Whether it was the penalty kill, whether it was the power play, defensive zone coverage, not enough secondary scoring or the top guys not scoring, there was always something missing. And right now, I think you’re seeing everything put together. Everybody’s doing things the right way and playing the game the right way. It’s playoff time and it’s Rochester. You realize that every play matters. You have to play loose and not to make mistakes and at the same time, be ready to go after it.”
LYNCH LEADS THE WAY
Leading the charge from the offensive side is sophomore Luke Lynch, who managed a four-point game in the 5-1 win in Game 2 for the Colonials and had six points on the weekend.
“Luke is a prototypical power forward and you could see that he had a really good year,” Schooley said. “He’s had a career high in points (36) and he’s got 10 points in five career playoff games. He needs to keep playing the way he’s playing. His game is built for success. ”
Lynch wasn’t alone in taking his game to a new level against Holy Cross, as forward Matthew Graham managed to find the back of the net in both games, while Timmy Moore’s two-first period goals on Saturday night served as a catalyst for the Colonials to an early 3-0 start. In net, Francis Marotte allowed just two goals on 78 shots faced and appears to be playing his best hockey of the season heading into Rochester.
LAKERS AND COLONIALS NO STRANGER TO ROCHESTER
Very few of the players are left from the last time Robert Morris met Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals in 2015, but the ones that were may have the biggest impact on this year’s game: Brady Ferguson, Spencer Dorowicz and Moore. At the other end of the rink, current starting Mercyhurst goaltender Brandon Wildung stopped 59-of-62 shots on the night in the 4-3 win for Mercyhurst. So far this season, the Colonials and Lakers have split the four games between them, with the home team sweeping on both occasions.
“Every game has been different with them this year,” Schooley said. “In the first game there was a lot of chances, in the second game there was a lot of power plays, and the third and fourth games were tight checking. We just have to do what we’ve been doing to the best: playing big, playing heavy and playing physical and that takes a lot of energy and helps you generate a lot of chances.”
O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN
The Colonials will be without captain Alex Bontje, who broke his ankle just 3 minutes into the game on Saturday night at Holy Cross. Bontje’s minutes will be hard to replace, as will what he brought to the bench in terms of leadership.
“We’re not going to be able to replace an Alex Bontje with one person,” Schooley said. “Everyone’s going to take a little part of what he does and by everyone elevating their game a little bit. The guys that played the 57 minutes after Alex got hurt really did a good job of stepping up.
“I’m really sad for Alex because he’s put so much time, heart and soul into this program. I wish his college career ended in a different way.”