Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Frozen finale: RMU, Niagara prepare for Heinz Field showdown

Robert Morris forward Timmy Moore battles in front of Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb in a game at 84 Lumber Arena in 2015.

Robert Morris (17-11-4, 13-10-3 Atlantic Hockey) vs Niagara (3-26-3, 3-21-2 AHC)

Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Dwyer Arena, Lewiston, N.Y.
Sunday, 7:05 p.m., Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

A full season of uplifting wins, heartbreaking losses, injuries and lessons learned along the way all boils down to this weekend. Robert Morris Colonials are in position to meet the goals set forth before the season started. This weekend, their fate is in their own hands as the embark on a two-game series versus their oldest rival, the Niagara Purple Eagles.

It will be a unique way to end the 2016-17 regular season campaign though, as Sunday night’s contest will see the Colonials making hockey history happen in Western Pennsylvania by hosting the first outdoor NCAA game at Heinz Field. The game at the home of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers will free to the public and will be a memory making event for both players and fans alike. It’s a game that could take a little getting used to, surroundings wise, and Colonials head coach Derek Schooley will have his team prepared for the different circumstances.

“We’re going to get there a little early, we’re going to take in some of the sights and get accustomed to Heinz Field and get the awe factor out of the way, and then we’ll ask them to lock it in,” Schooley said. “I’m sure there’s going to be some wide-eyed looks, especially in warm ups, but this is an opportunity that you can’t pass up.”

Coming into the weekend, the Eagles have had a season that hasn’t gone according to plan. They are the worst team in the country by both record and Pairwise. But still, the Eagles remain a threat. Some teams find their game later than others, and this Niagara team appears to be on the verge of wins sooner rather than later.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dave Burkholder and the Niagara program,” Schooley said. “They’ve been our longest standing rival and we’ve played close to 50 games if not more against them. They’ve had a program that has always works hard and always plays well at Dywer Arena.”

Schooley cited recent progress by Niagara in taking Army to overtime and a pair of close games against red-hot Canisius the last two weekends that may make the Purple Eagles more dangerous than they seem.

“They’re close, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re focused and prepared,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to play for still. … We want to play for 20 wins which we’ve had three of the last four years, and we want to make our seniors the all time winningest class, so there’s a lot to play for.”

A lot to play for indeed. The Colonials have clinched a first-round bye thanks to the results of some midweek games. They need two points to secure home-ice advantage in the second round and could potentially catch and surpass Army for the third overall seed with a little help. But there is even more to play for, and they aren’t all goals that the coaching staff set forth, but rather the group of seniors that wanted to still keep the program moving forward despite the departure of a large graduating class the year before.

“Our seniors made it a mantra, made it known that we didn’t want to take a step back,” Schooley said. “We wanted to stay in the upper echelon of Atlantic Hockey. We wanted to get a bye, and the ultimate goal is to put yourself in Rochester with a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and so far, we’ve accomplished everything we wanted. We’re six games over .500, we’ve won the Three Rivers Classic, we’ve got a non-conference record of 4-1-1. This team has done a lot of great things and I don’t believe this team is done achieving other very good things, there’s a lot still on the horizon.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

RMU: Somewhat lost in the emotional win last Saturday night was the fact that a new line took to the ice as junior forward Timmy Moore joined freshmen Daniel Mantenuto and Luke Lynch, comprising a line that has a great mix of scoring and energy, with a great deal of grit and toughness to boot. Moore got the Colonials rolling on the scoreboard last Saturday when he notched his career-best 14th goal of the season, and Mantenuto wound up with a goal and two assists on the night. Meanwhile, Luke Lynch continued his strong play with a three-point weekend. It’s a potentially potent mix, that can be employed in different moments of the game, with enough skill to make a difference on the score sheet.

“We’ve been tinkering to find some secondary scoring and we’ve been trying to find that group and I liked what they provided last Saturday night,” Schooley said. “We do need Daniel Mantenuto to get on the score sheet which he did with a goal and two assists last Saturday. Timmy Moore has had an outstanding season and Luke Lynch has been for the most part pretty consistent with his point production. So if this line can give us something if opponents shut our top line down and this line can take over, then that’s great for us.”

Niagara: The Eagles are led in scoring by freshman defenseman Noah Delmas who has put up 14 assists so far this season. Keep an eye on freshman forward Kris Spriggs, who leads the way with seven goals on the year, and forward T.J. Sarcona who has turned in some remarkable performances against RMU over the course of his career.

GOALTENDERS

RMU: If the hot hand does continue to roll for RMU, look for Dalton Izyk to play a factor in one if not both games this weekend. The senior net minder looks to have regained his form since coming off an injury-plagued first half of the season and came up with a huge performance when the Colonials needed it most in last Saturday’s 3-2 win over Mercyhurst.

Niagara: For the Eagles, senior Jackson Teichroeb leads the way in games played. But it’s been a true three man operation as sophomores Guillaume Therien and Joe O’Brien have double digit games under their belts this season as well. When Teichroeb’s game is on, he can be one of the better goalies in the conference as evidenced by back-to-back shutouts of Sacred Heart and American International earlier this year. All three goaltenders have allowed over four goals a game on average this season.

LAST WEEK

The Colonials are coming off an emotional win versus Mercyhurst last Saturday night, a game that saw them overcome outplaying their opponent on the stat sheet, while being behind on the scoreboard. However, Ben Robiallard’s overtime goal, lifted the Colonials to a crucial 3-2 victory, capping a weekend that saw them drop the opening game once again, while rebounding the following night. Such has been the case lately during their 6-5-1 stretch.

“Anytime you win a championship of any kind, you have to overcome some adversity during the season,” Schooley said. “When we won the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, we were 2-12-2 at one point. RIT got in as a fifth seed last year and won the Championship. There’s always something that you’ve got to overcome. If a 6-5-1 stretch in our 12 games since Christmas is our adversity, then so be it. I think our expectations were raised with the great start and they were heightened through the Three Rivers Classic, but we’re still a young team that’s learning and figuring out how to play in certain situations.”

Niagara: The Eagles were swept in action versus Canisius last weekend, losing 4-2 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday. They have now lost 10 consecutive games.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

At Stake: For the Colonials, it’s the same goal they’ve been striving towards all season long: a first-round bye and home ice advantage in the second round. The only difference is, this weekend, they can actually clinch it.

It is also possible for the Colonials to end up as high as the third seed in the conference. Army has 33 points and has one game remaining against AIC. Robert Morris has 29 points

For Niagara, this is a chance to get momentum and confidence working in their favor before their first round playoff series, and also, to play spoiler to their long time rival in the Colonials.

All Time: Niagara leads the all time series with a 29-20-10 record versus RMU

Bold Prediction:A sweep for the Colonials almost seems as certain as death and taxes. But Niagara has been playing very well in stretches lately and against some of the best teams in the league as well. They’re getting closer and closer to getting to their game. Throw in unfamiliar surroundings at Heinz Field on Sunday and things get even more cloudy, but the better team should win here, so I’m calling for the sweep for RMU. They have a lot more to play for.

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