While the Robert Morris Colonials games this weekend against eighth ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, the games don’t mean any less, and the opportunity is there to show what this team can do on a big stage. It’s hard not to call it a rivalry weekend as there are only three NCAA Division I teams in the state of Pennsylvania and good results against highly ranked teams have become a tradition at Robert Morris over the years. Regardless of the opponent, the Colonials are looking for wins and to find out more about their team as they prepare to embark on several consecutive weekends of Atlantic Hockey play.
LIONS ARE EXPLOSIVE
“Our guys want to compete,” Colonial head coach Derek Schooley said to PHD. “They want to show that they’re the best team in Pennsylvania and they want to win every hockey game they can play.”
The two schools have seen their fair share of hotly contested games where the hits are intense and the goals can pile up quickly. It’s been a series the Colonials have held their own in over the years as both teams have featured some high-powered scoring talent and shared a knack for getting up and down the ice. The Lions represent one of the toughest opponents the Colonials might face this year as they come in with a 6-1-0 mark on the season to date and have been averaging nearly five goals a game.
Up front, the Lions are led by a balanced attack with six skaters at or near the 10 point mark this season. Forwards Alex Limoges and Evan Barratt lead the way with 10 points each while between the pipes, Peyton Jones has been solid, sporting a 1.99 goals against average and a 93.9% save percentage.
“They’re an explosive offense,” Schooley added. “They throw a lot of pucks to the net, they always lead the nation in shots on goal and goals scored and we’ve got to be very good away from the puck. We can’t be puck watching. We don’t want to get in a track meet up and down the ice with them because that’s their kind of game. We’ve been fortunate enough to get leads on them and we need to get a lead and play with a lead.”
SPLIT VERSUS EAGLES ENCOURAGING
The Colonials come off of a weekend split with Atlantic Hockey foe Niagara University last weekend, competing in a pair of games at the Island Sports Center. The Colonials played at a very high level once again, particularly in last Friday night’s 3-1 victory. Niagara rallied back for a 4-2 win on Saturday night and while the result still wasn’t a win, Schooley is noticing an uptick in second game performance in recent weeks.
“We’re getting there, we’re getting close to playing consistent on back to back nights, it’s just that we’re not getting the results we want on Saturday night. If you give the effort we’re giving, it’ll take care of itself. You can’t really point at anything other than we just have to keep working and realizing it’s a process with a young hockey team.”
COLONIALS DEFENSE TAKES SHAPE AROUND ISRAEL
To this point, the defense and goaltending has been a strong point for Robert Morris. Anchored in the net with junior Francis Marotte, the team had been holding it’s own on the back end despite a new look with several freshman in the lineup. Senior defenseman Eric Israel’s return from injury a few weeks ago has allowed for the entire corps to play within their roles, benefiting the whole team.
“Eric allows everybody to take a step back in their roles. Him being back allowed everyone to get a little more comfortable and playing the roles they were used to instead of outside of their roles. He’s done a great job managing his game, when to go and when not to go, when to play defense and when to go on the offense. He gives us come calmness and some poise. ”
The Colonials have allowed a trim 2.75 goals against and the number has been going down with almost each game. However, Israel isn’t the only spark for the back line in the young season. Junior Alex Robert has taken his game to a new level which has also helped solidify the corps in the early part of the season.
“Our most improved player so far would have to be Alex Robert. He’s taken his game from being up and down and inconsistent his first two years to being an elite defenseman. He’s playing on our top pair with Israel, and in late game situations as well as special teams and he’s impressed from day one this year. He’s got the ability to play a lot of big minutes the rest of this year and afterwards. He’s taken a big step forward in his game.”
The 11 freshman that have taken the ice in a Colonial uniform have yielded some surprises and fast starts thus far, and Schooley has taken notice of those that have achieved above the expectation level early on.
“Geoff Lawson has been a really big surprise for us and has played really solid and competes and does things the right way,” Schooley said. “Everybody’s learning at their own pace. Justin Addamo had a great start for us, Nick Lalonde has really come on the last couple of weeks and Grant Hebert has played well, he just hasn’t produced the points yet that we thought he would but his game is getting to the college level.