Derek Schooley likes to say that he started the Robert Morris hockey program with nothing other than a desk and a telephone.
His venture was the first Division I school in Pennsylvania to start up an ice hockey program in decades, and through 18 years with the team, Schooley saw that inauspicious start turn into a successful program that boasted multiple conference championships, national rankings and professional alumni.
That run came to an end on Wednesday, as Robert Morris University announced that it was shuttering the men’s and women’s hockey programs, effective immediately, citing the financial burden of maintaining the teams.
“I’m devastated for our players, I’m devastated for our alums, I’m devastated for all of our coaches that have been here at any point and I’m devastated for all of the people that have put blood sweat and tears into this program,” Schooley said in a telephone interview with Pittsburgh Hockey Digest on Wednesday afternoon.
“We started with a belief of starting Division I hockey and turned it into a program that was ranked in the top 20 this year. I’m sad. I don’t know if I’m shocked. I’m sad, disappointed, and I feel for everyone that’s been involved in Robert Morris hockey right now.”
Schooley said he doesn’t see the closure of the programs as a sign that college hockey can’t work in Pittsburgh.
“I think both men’s and women’s programs have been incredibly successful,” Schooley said. “The amount of people that we’ve put into (pro hockey). The amount of people that have come to Robert Morris. We’ve had NCAA Tournament teams on both sides. We’ve had regular season championships, we’ve had national rankings. I believe that the program has been very successful for Robert Morris.
“That’s why we’re shocked and devastated and sad that we can’t continue. We felt that we were going to have a really good team next year.”
Schooley added that he hopes to help his current players and recruits find other homes in Division I hockey.