Robert Morris (16-10-4, 12-9-3 Atlantic Hockey) vs Mercyhurst (11-15-4, 10-10-4 AHC)
Friday, 7:05 p.m., Mercyhurst Ice Center, Erie, Pa. Saturday, 7:05 p.m, 84 Lumber Arena, Neville Twp, Pa.
Just two weekends remain in the 2016-17 regular season for Robert Morris, and the Colonials will send off their four-player senior class this Saturday, as defenseman Rob Mann, forwards Daniel Leavens and Ben Robillard and goaltender Dalton Izyk will be feted before the final home game of the regular season.
It’s been an interesting ride for the group, which has been together through the best seasons of RMU hockey history. In their senior year, though, expectations were lower. The team was picked to finish sixth coming into the season and with 10 freshmen on the roster, it was easy to write the Colonials off.
But the senior leaders haven’t let that happen. Leavens is second on the team in scoring, while Mann has been a rock solid on the blue line and has contributed a surprising amount of offense in his final season. He’s also been a steady voice as the team’s captain and leader.
“I can’t say enough about his leadership and I can’t say enough about him as a person that he’s been able to mold this team through some ups and downs and trials and tribulations to get to where we are,” head coach Derek Schooley said. “Obviously, I have a tremendous amount of faith in him as a captain. So far, he’s done a very good job and we still have a lot of hockey to play, so hopefully, he will continue to.”
One thing that Mann won’t be preaching is the importance of the game this Friday. Robert Morris has lost four straight Friday games, and after doing everything under the sun to try to change up their luck last Friday and still failing, the Colonials are trying a different tact: ignore the date.
“We’re not even discussing Fridays anymore,” Schooley said. “We’re just worrying about the game. We’re not worrying about the date or the time, we’re just worrying about performing to the best of our abilities. It doesn’t matter when the game is. We’re not even discussing our last four Friday issues, because previously to that, we had done fairly well. It’s not something we’re even talking about as a team.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RMU: Robillard has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, but he’s expected to make his return, and that could help sure up the bottom six for Robert Morris.
Robillard has talent but also will bring a veteran presence to a part of the lineup that has frequently been populated by freshmen in his absence.
Mercyhurst: Sophomore defenseman Les Lancaster is the kind of player that opposing defense always have to look out for. Whether it’s a big shot from the point or a high-risk play to join the rush, Lancaster is always looking for offense and he has 19 points on the season, including a big against Robert Morris in December.
RMU: The Colonials have been one of the highest-scoring teams in the country over the last few seasons, but they couldn’t find their stride against Bentley backup Aidan Pelino last weekend. Robert Morris scored just one goal and was lucky to escape with a point in a 1-0-1 weekend against the Falcons.
“It’s harder and harder to score as it gets later in the year because teams have their systems down, teams are playing tighter and preparing for the playoffs,” Schooley said. “We have to get some pucks to the net and do different things to create offense. This group has the ability to score and has scored. Everyone has a little down time. Hopefully, it’s better now than in a couple weeks.”
Mercyhurst: The Lakers had a late ACH bye week, instead playing a non-conference game at Bowling Green, which the Falcons won, 4-0. Mercyhurst went 0-1-1 while hosting Sacred Heart the previous weekend.
RMU: With senior night coming on Saturday, it seems likely that Izyk will get the start that night, so look for freshman Francis Marotte start the opener in Erie. Marotte still has an impressive .939 save percentage, even after going 2-3-1 in his last six starts.
Mercyhurst: The Lakers have bounced back and forth between Brandon Wildung and Burgettstown native Colin DeAugustine all season. Both players have historic success against Robert Morris. Wildung made 56 saves to eliminate the Colonials from the AHC Tournament in 2015, while DeAugustine made 83 saves while taking 3 of 4 points from RMU this December.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
At Stake: Four points, and critical ones for a first-round bye. Robert Morris is currently in fourth place, but is just three points ahead of the Lakers, who sit in sixth. If Mercyhurst wants one of the top five spots and a first-round bye, they need to take points from the Colonials and hope third-place Army and can take care of fifth-place Holy Cross.
All Time: The Lakers lead the series, 9-6-8.
Bold Prediction: The Colonials have to win a Friday game, eventually right? But Mercyhurst is a tough team at home and will be desperate for points. I think the Colonials will take a partial step forward, earning a draw on Friday and a win for the seniors on Saturday.