Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Colonials return to conference play against AIC

The Colonials will look to avoid another letdown loss against AIC. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

Robert Morris (11-6-3, 7-5-2 Atlantic Hockey) vs. American International (4-9-6, 3-5-5 AHC)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m. at 84 Lumber Arena, Neville Twp.

It’s back to the grind for the Robert Morris Colonials who start off their 14-game run to the Atlantic Hockey playoffs on Friday night as they open a two-game series with the visiting American International Yellow Jackets.

The Colonials are coming off their third victory in five years in the annual Three Rivers Classic at PPG Paints Arena, defeating yet another nationally ranked opponent in the process with a 5-2 win over the No. 14 Quinnipiac Bobcats last Friday.

“I thought our second and third period in the championship game was outstanding,” head coach Derek Schooley said. “I thought the way we responded after a lackluster first period where we stood around and watched Quinnipiac and didn’t really give them much of a fight and then the way we just responded so well and took over the game was very good, our second and third periods were outstanding. We played five of six really good periods last week.”

For the Colonials, it’s time to move past the great feelings that last week produced and to sharpen their focus as they get down to the matter at hand: nailing down one of the top five positions in the Atlantic Hockey and a first-rotund bye. To do so, the Colonials will have to put forth their best effort, starting this weekend, something that hasn’t always been the case after a big victory.

“We’re 3-4-1 in games after the Three Rivers Classic,” Schooley said. “Last year, we beat Michigan on the road 4-0 and came back the following Friday and lost to AIC. We have to have our older guys teach our younger guys lessons and we’re very pleased with our older guys. The minute we won the championship last week, they were talking about next week and reminding our team and our young players about what happened last year against AIC.”

The test will be different this year as Yellow Jackets have come a long way under new head coach Eric Lang. Perennially a doormat, Lang has managed to change the culture and get creative regarding recruiting for the program. Lang has his team believing, and it is a uniquely talented and young group.

“They’ve just got a different attitude and a different culture that they’re trying to create,” Schooley said. “They did something a little different, they started out and went and got a whole bunch of European kids and they’ve kind of found their niche in their recruiting of players that for one reason or another that other schools couldn’t get because of their foreign transcripts and things like that.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

RMU: The top line of Brady Ferguson, Daniel Leavens and Alex Tonge keeps hitting the scoresheet at a very healthy clip with each player averaging over 1.25 points per game.

But in the championship win over Quinnipiac, they got impact goals from captain Rob Mann, Spencer Dorowicz and Timmy Moore. Moore in particular has seen more ice time at critical times lately and has taken advantage.

“I think it’s just a case of opportunities,” Schooley said regarding Moore who had two goals in the title game last week. “He hasn’t had the chance to be on the power play, he hasn’t had the opportunity to play on a top line and he’s getting more and more chances now. He’s one of our go-to defensive forwards as well as a player who’s been chipping in offensively. I think as players mature, their games mature and his game has matured along with him. He plays with a lot of energy, he plays hard, he works for everything he gets. He’s had an outstanding year so far.”

AIC: Freshman forward Blake Christensen leads the way for the Yellow Jackets with six goals and 16 assists and he’s followed by fellow forwards Shawn McBride, Martin Mellburg and Hugo Reinhardt who chime in with over 10 points each on the young season. One player to keep your eye on is Austin Orszulak who has been a Colonial killer in years past. He currently stands with eight points, but could be due for a breakout second half. At the back, Andrew DeBrincat leads all defensemen with one goal and six assists.

LAST WEEK

RMU: Defeated Ferris State and then No. 14 Quinnipiac en route to the Three Rivers Classic championship
AIC: The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 3-0 win over UMass Tuesday night

GOALTENDING

RMU: Francis Marotte continues his impressive campaign which now features a 1.74 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage. Dalton Izyk has now been deemed healthy following an injury back in October, and is ready for action should he be called upon, as is Andrew Pikul, giving the Colonials the rare advantage of having three quality goaltenders at the ready.

AIC: It’s been a two goalie system so far between junior Alex Murray (3.05 goals-against average, .893 save percentage) in 10 games, and freshman Zackarias Skog (3.03 goals-against average, .903 save percentage) in 11 games. Slog is coming off a 27-save shutout win on Tuesday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

At Stake: For the Colonials, it’s an opportunity to keep on trucking towards home ice and a first-round bye in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. RMU is currently in the middle of a six-team logjam atop the standings and the top five finishers are awarded the bye and home ice.

For the Yellow Jackets, it’s a chance to move closer towards that top six-pack in the standings as they have games in hand over RMU and Mercyhurst to work with and some confidence following their win over UMass on Tuesday.

All-Time: The Colonials hold the all-time series advantage with at 14-4-3 record

Bold Prediction: It’s a new era of AIC hockey with Eric Lang now in charge. And it’s started off with a new level of competitiveness. The Yellow Jackets are no pushover and will offer up a test for the Colonials who look to avoid a letdown following their performance last week.

These games should be close, and an AIC win wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but it’s a young group of Colonials who are being reminded by coach, captain and others that they can’t afford a letdown.RMU earns a hard fought win on Friday and AIC comes back for a tie on Saturday.

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