Robert Morris (5-3-2) vs Dartmouth (2-2-2)
7:05 p.m. Saturday, 84 Lumber Arena, Neville Twp, PA
2:05 p.m. Sunday, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
When the Robert Morris hockey schedule was released earlier this year, this weekend’s series with the Dartmouth Big Green was circled immediately. Not because it was a critical weekend in terms of ranking, but because it was unique in so many ways.
Dartmouth represents an uncommon opponent. The Colonials have met them just once in their history. Then there’s the fact that the games took place not only at 84 Lumber Arena, but also at PPG Paints Arena the next day. Finally, the fact that there were going to be only a few hours between them to rest and get ready again. It is a weekend that nobody knows exactly what to expect from the games, which makes it so intriguing. But there are four points for the taking if either side can come in a little more prepared or perhaps, a little more hungry.
The Colonials come into the weekend following a bye, and the last time they skated, they took a hard-earned four points at Sacred Heart including a Sunday match-up that saw them get outplayed at times, but still come out with the win on the road.
“Any time you get four points on the weekend you have to be happy with that, ” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “I didn’t think we played to the best of our abilities on Sunday. But we found a way to get the job done. And you’ve got to give credit to Sacred Heart for pushing us out of our comfort zone and taking the play to us on Sunday. We were really pinned in our zone at times and we did a good job defending and a good job around the net..”
Dartmouth comes in winless in their last three contests and are still finding their groove as they’ve only played six games to the Colonials’ 10. They’ve faced some formidable competition so far and have been in every game. Like the Colonials, they’ve had to introduce a large group of freshman into the mix. The two teams played last year at the annual Ledyard Bank Classic in Dartmouth, and it was a day Schooley and the older players remember well as the Green handed them a 5-1 loss.
“We just have to do what we can do,” Schooley said. “We have video and we do as much scouting as we can do as far as that goes. You just have to play your game. I think that’s one of the things we’ve got even though we don’t have a tremendous history to look back on with them. They took it too us last year. We had just come off winning the Three Rivers Classic, we were coming off a short week and had to travel up there. We didn’t have our best effort and they took it to us. That’s the one thing I hope our players remember. It’s not like we’re big rivals or anything like that. But the one time we played was really in their favor. Things change from year to year so it’s not like we can go back and watch last year against us, we just have to make sure we’re ready to go after a bye week and they haven’t played since last Tuesday. We have to make sure we’re prepared after an 11 day layoff.”
And the layoff factor Schooley alludes to will be significant, which will be another interesting factor to watch closely as will the abnormal short time between the two games. The Colonials will have to be prepared to use every available player, and will have to come out focused on Saturday night. Odds are, if either team falls behind by multiple goals early and spends too much energy chasing the game, they’ll suffer a further handicap on Sunday.
“You have to see what the pulse of your team is and you go from there,” Schooley said. “This past weekend we used to recover. We’d been going fairly hard and had played eight straight games over four weekends with some challenging ones and a lot of road trips. Seven of our first 10 games were on the road. We used the weekend to get our bumps and bruises healed, and tried to put ourselves in the best shape moving into eight more games before the Christmas break. It’s a non conference weekend, and our m/o and our history has been to try to get as many guys as we can in the lineup and to make sure we’re prepared to play games that are for points. This is kind of our last good chance to tinker with the lineup. We haven’t determined exactly what we’re going to do as far as players and goaltenders and we’ll talk about that more as the week goes along. And as far as the quick turnaround, we’ll be doing a lot of stretching and cardio to prepare us for Sunday. We just have to make sure we’re prepared for the Saturday game first, and we’ll deal with Sunday after that.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
For the Colonials, the top line has been impressive, to say the least. Junior forward Brady Ferguson leads the way with 18 points in 10 games and is currently tied for ninth in the country in the scoring department. He’s joined by Alex Tonge, who’s had a red-hot start to the season with seven goals and 13 points — more than he had his entire freshman year — and Daniel Leavens with 12 points on year thus far.
While that’s all well and good, two players to watch this weekend have emerged as a tandem on the back line in the early part of the season that merit some worthy praise. Those players being defensemen Elias Ghantous and Eric Isreal. We’ve talked about Israel before, now with 12 points on the season, as he’s been off to a great start that has seen him already outperform his freshman season total. But helping him get there is a steady stay at home guy that might not hit the score sheet as much, but has taken his game to a new level this season.
“Eli was a guy we brought in to be a stay at home-shutdown defenseman,” Schooley said. “Through circumstances in his control and without his control didn’t get too much ice time his first two years. At the end of last year when everybody graduated, we told him to come back in great shape, and to make sure that he came back ready to make a step to challenge for the ice time that he’s felt he deserved. He came back in great shape and he’s done a great job killing penalties and he’s been great defensively which has allowed Israel to be able to be more offensive minded. They’ve meshed well so you just look at what they’ve done as a group. Eli, although he had been here two years, he only had three games of experience so really we’re still seeing some growth and potential in his game. Hopefully he continues to get better and better.”
For Dartmouth, it’s a small sample size to work with perhaps, however in six games, the Green are led by two freshman forwards who will merit attention as Cam Strong and Will Graber come into the weekend with four points. Keep an eye on upperclassmen forwards Carl Hesler and Tony Crema who have yet to ramp up their production yet and will be looking to break out this weekend after being near the top of team scoring for Dartmouth last season.
RMU: Francis Marotte (1.48 GAA, .957 SV %) Andrew Pikul (5.67 GAA, .844 SV%)
Dartmouth: Devin Buffalo (2.67 GAA, .911 SV %) Adrian Clark (2.65 GAA, .846 SV%)
What we could be looking at here, is a weekend where all four of these goaltenders will have to play.
Perhaps Robert Morris has the edge here as Marotte has been one of the season’s biggest surprises and one of the top goaltenders in the country early on and Andrew Pikul has a bit more experience than Clark. Pikul has some inflated numbers early, but in his last outing looked much more solid in relief of the injured Dalton Izyk in a 4-4 tie with Ohio State. It’s up to the coaches to say who goes when and will be intriguing to see how it plays out.
Buffalo has been solid in early season action this season including a winning performance versus Michigan.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
What’s at stake: Being a non-conference weekend, this becomes a two game set which may actually have Pairwise implications that could be a factor in NCAA tournament consideration. A sweep for either team could be huge come March, as long as the other side keeps playing at a high level — perhaps moreso for the Colonials, who have less non conference opportunities.
For Dartmouth, it’s a chance to rebuild momentum heading into December and for the team to see what they’ve got to work with. For both teams, there’s an opportunity, and a complete necessity given the short time between games, to have a look at everybody on the roster.
All-time: The two sides have played just one game against each other in their history which happened last year. Dartmouth took a 5-1 win at home in the Ledyard Bank Classic.
Bold prediction: This series has a lot of factors playing into it that make it very difficult to call either way. There’s not much history between the two, and lots of transition for both teams who also come into the weekend on nearly equal amounts of rest.
From a quality standpoint, these are two good hockey teams that could both be making noise in mid to late March. Throw in the quick turn around factor, and it becomes even more difficult to call.
I’ll go with the split here with Dartmouth taking the Saturday win with the Colonials evening the score on Sunday, and I wouldn’t expect either game to be one sided, we’re looking at two close battles here perhaps.