Robert Morris (2-3-1) vs Ohio State (5-0-2)
7:05 p.m. Friday, Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
7:05 p.m. Saturday, 84 Lumber Arena, Neville Twp., Pa.
It’s time to get to know one another again for the Robert Morris Colonials and Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend, as a home-and-home non-conference weekend for both sides starts up on Friday night in Columbus, followed by a return visit to 84 Lumber Arena on Saturday.
There’s a history here as the schools have played 10 times and the Colonials have been a tough out for the Buckeyes to this point, earning three wins and a tie.
The Buckeyes are back in the national spotlight, currently ranked 11th in the latest USCHO.com poll and come into the weekend without a loss on the young season. Quite simply, things haven’t been this good in Columbus since the early 2000’s when 25-win seasons and NCAA tournament appearances were the norm.
It would be one thing if they were merely lucking out in some one-goal contests, but this version of the Buckeyes has been something different altogether. They’re simply destroying what they’re encountering with an average of 4.86 goals for while yielding 2.14 goals against. They’re fast, they fill the net and they represent the toughest challenge to the Colonials yet this season.
“They put the puck in the net and they’ve done a very good job at the start of their season and they’ve taken care of the job against whomever they’ve played,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “To put sixteen goals in against a team like Niagara on the road is no small feat. They’re just a very good hockey team right now.”
Now factor into the equation that Robert Morris averages at least one fairly large upset win a year, sometimes two, and you’ll understand quickly why despite the Buckeyes’ menacing start, the Colonials will have some confidence they can get the job done at least once here.
That comes from Schooley, who has developed a penchant for pulling off the huge upset win that has spanned several classes. He’s the one constant factor in all of them and will have his team ready with a good plan on how to go about it. But perhaps bigger than any weekend result is the monitoring of how his team is improving.
One visibile improvement from last week’s split with Army was the penalty kill, which did its job at a 90-percent clip. Another sign that the young team is coming along is the fact that the penalties against came down significantly against an Army side that loves to bring out the beast in their opponent so to speak.
But improvement is a year long thing, and though they’ve received an early blessing in goaltender Francis Marotte’s play, there’s still much work to do as in improving scoring at even strength and finding a way to increase their scoring depth overall.
“We just need to keep refining our game. Our penalty killing was much better this past weekend but we need to get more consistency with all aspects of our game,” Schooley said. “We’ve been fortunate in the past to have done a great job against ranked opponents over the years but we’re still a young and inexperienced hockey team and we’re taking steps forward. Sometimes, you can’t always judge a hockey team by the results, you’ve got to judge it by improvements and want to be playing your best hockey at the end of the year. We just want to keep improving no matter who we’re playing week to week so that we’re at our best come March.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RMU: Everybody in the building has been watching forward Brady Ferguson (five goals, five assists), and lots of folks outside of the building have been watching, too, as he was named Atlantic Hockey player of the month for October.
But scoring depth has been a focus early in the year, and last weekend saw senior forward Ben Robillard come through with a goal. Robillard has had an injury riddled career so far but has shown flashes of brilliance when healthy and could lead the charge in that department. Freshmen Daniel Mantenuto and Luke Lynch have been pleasant surprises as well early in the going and bring some considerable skills to the table.
“We’ve said from day one that we’re not going to replace the scoring that graduated from just one guy, we were going to need scoring from everybody,” Schooley said. “Ben’s got two goals in six games and it’s good to see him back healthy but we need to get some secondary scoring, we can’t rely on one guy or one particular line. We need to figure out a way to score more five on five, obviously Ben was a goal scorer in juniors and hopefully he can continue to do things they way he’s been doing things around the net.
“Daniel is a skilled offensive player but what’s impressed me most is that he plays with speed and plays hard and goes to the tough areas and he’s defensively smart. Luke is an all around player he blocks shots and kills penalties and chips in with assists. We’d like to see him get on the score sheet with a goal, but our freshman are still learning and growing and we need them to continue to do that.”
OSU:Look for offense by committee and lots of it. Freshman Tanner Laczynski leads the way with 11 points in seven games thus far, and right behind him senior Nick Schilkey sits with 10 points and is coming off a 41-point campaign in the 2015-16 season. Junior Matt Weiss put up 32 points last season and is well on his way to topping that this year with 10 points so far. On the back line, senior Josh Healy leads the way, averaging an assist per game thus far.
RMU: Freshman Francis Marotte (1.60 GAA, .946 save percentage) has the net these days after playing both nights versus Army last weekend. Marotte is one of the hottest netminders in the country, currently ranking 8th in the country in goals against average and 6th overall in save percentage. But this is a non conference tilt, and it will be interesting to see if junior Andrew Pikul might see some action to help keep sharp.
OSU: For the Buckeyes, senior Matt Tomkins (1.84 GAA; .928 save percentage) looks to have the job in hand so far, and just as in the Colonials case, a non-conference weekend means it’s a good to give others a look now and then. If that’s the case look for seniors Christian Frey or Logan Davis to see some rubber.
RMU: The Colonials split the home weekend with Army with a 2-1 win on Friday and a 2-1 loss on Saturday
OSU: The Buckeyes visited Niagara and took care of business with authority with a 10-2 win on Friday and a 6-2 win on Saturday.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
What’s at stake: Given the history between the two, Ohio State will be on guard for a letdown. The Buckeyes are off to a hot start and a less than stellar performance can have ramifications come Pairwise time in March. For the Colonials, this is a huge opportunity to gain some confidence and a chance to see who takes their game to another level in a big weekend.
All-time: Ohio State leads the all time series between the two with a 5-3-2 record
Bold Prediction: This weekend could go either way for the Colonials. I could see another shock-the-world type of upset (although nothing is shocking with this program when it comes to that sort of thing), and I could also see it going the other way towards an OSU sweep. The coaching and talent are there to provide the upset and then some, but it will take focus and scoring out of some players that could use to get some points on the depth lines. Skating around with energy and making good decisions are one thing, but if they don’t lead to great opportunities and a capitalization on them, then it’s just that. I’ll give the 5-2 win to OSU on Friday night and on Saturday, Marotte makes some great saves and the Colonials find some scoring to come up with the 4-4 tie.