The road for the Robert Morris Colonials will not be an easy one in the final two weekends of the Atlantic Hockey regular season as they find themselves just four points out of a first place tie while being chased by five teams trailing them by four points or fewer for the final first-round bye that holds home-ice advantage in the second round. However, with no remaining games in hand left for their closest pursuers, their fate remains totally in their own hands, which is a good position to be in this time of year.
The Colonials achieved that position with their second half play that has helped them climb up the standings while gaining a good deal of momentum. However, the escalation in the Colonials’ fortunes took a step back last weekend in a rare sweep at home administered by the RIT Tigers. The Colonials fell behind on Friday night by a 4-1 margin and rallied in the final period, but ultimately came up short. On Saturday, their strong start could not be sustained as the Tigers overcame an early deficit and never looked back in a 6-2 victory.
“On Friday we had a resilient comeback and had chances and you can take a positive out of that,” head coach Derek Schooley said. “Saturday we had a great start, played with a lot of energy, but the wheels fell off the bus and we weren’t able to get them back on.”
The damage was minimal for the Colonials, but the opportunity to take a firmer grip on their fate slipped away somewhat. The opportunity still remains intact, though, heading into their weekend series with the Mercyhurst Lakers, where the key to success starts with putting the weekend that was behind them.
“We talked about it on Monday that we had no choice but to put it behind us,” Schooley said. “We’ve got 12 days left in our regular season from when we talked about it and now we’ve got 10 days left. If we focus on the past, the present is going to bite us and we have to be prepared for the rest of our regular season. We can’t dwell on that and we’re just going to look forward.”
LAKERS ON THE RISE
The Colonials managed to earn a sweep in the first home and home series with the Lakers, a feat that has been hard to come by over the years of the rivalry which has produced one entertaining game after another. With scoring chances and great saves taking place seemingly every minute, the games have been captivating since the puck first dropped between the two sides, and the results have been amazingly even as the Lakers, own a one win advantage.
“We’re two local rivals and for the longest time we were the only rivals in Pennsylvania,” Schooley said. “It’s a healthy rivalry built amongst respect. I respect everything that their coach, Rick Gotkin, has done as has our team. It’s just two teams that play the game very similar, they want to go on the offense, they want to score goals, they want to compete and they always have good offensive talent. There has always been a lot of challenging, difficult, hard games between the two.”
The Lakers have been riding a red-hot power play and a sweep of second place Holy Cross last weekend. They are led by forward Derek Barach’s 31 points and Jack Riley’s 15 goals while at the back, Lester Lancaster and Zach Todd lead the attack both at even strength and with the man advantage. In between the pipes, senior Brandon Wildung has been the go to guy with 28 appearances and a 2.90 goals against average.
“They’re just playing with a tremendous amount of confidence right now,” Schooley said. “Their power play was just off the charts this past weekend so we’ve got to make sure that we do a good job of staying out of the penalty box. When we do get penalties we have to do a good job of clearing pucks two-hundred feet and just make sure that we’re prepared for their talent. We’ve been very good about staying out of the penalty box this year until our last game and hopefully that was a hiccup.”
PLAYING FOR ‘WORKY’
It has been a tragic week for the Robert Morris hockey family as former associate head coach Mark Workman passed away at the age 0f 48 after a battle with cancer. Workman was a huge part of the Colonial program advancing from competitive one, to one that was developing a winning tradition. The hearts will be heavy on the Robert Morris bench this week, not so much for what Workman brought to the team in terms of expertise which was quite impressive, but for the type of person he was and character he had. Needless to say, the Colonials will be playing in his memory this weekend and beyond.
“There’s no handbook or manual for how to deal with this as a staff or as a hockey team. We’re devastated,” Schooley said. “Our players are heartbroken. Our staff is devastated with grief. I don’t think you can put into words how we feel right now. Mark was kind of the jack of all trades. He did a very good job recruiting and with our penalty kill but most of all he was a very good representative of Robert Morris hockey and would do anything to help make our program successful. I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for our program. We had known he was sick, but you always hope there was an opportunity for him to fight through it. Today is a very hard day for us.”