There is no one perfect route to Atlantic Hockey’s final four in Rochester, N.Y. A berth there can be achieved with a bye in the first round or without and can be done at home or on the road. Playoff hockey success is determined by teams that play through the circumstances that other’s don’t. They overcome adversity, never lose their cool and play their game regardless of what their opponent does to try to stop them.
That is what the Robert Morris Colonials must do to keep their season alive starting Friday night in the first round of the AHC playoffs as they host the Bentley Falcons in a best-of-three series. Though it won’t be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, the Colonials are more than capable of getting the job done despite going through a six-game winless streak (0-5-1) to end the regular season.
“I’ve said all along, I like this hockey team and I think this hockey team has the ability to do some good things but now’s the time,” head coach Derek Schooley said.
With a senior-laden lineup full of playoff experience and a goaltender that is capable of stealing games when called upon, the Colonials are perhaps the most dangerous team that wound up without a bye. It’s a team that has been on a roller coaster seemingly all season long with regards to results and 60-minute compete level, but the pieces are in place, even if the results haven’t always been the desired ones.
Their current winless streak has featured games agaisnt the three hottest teams in the conference down the stretch and the margin of victory in five of the six was a goal or less. This was the case in their last outing last weekend against Air Force in a series where the Colonials could have had three or even four points had they put away their opportunities.
“We worked extremely hard, we got a lot of chances,” Schooley said. ‘I thought we played a pretty complete weekend except for the fact that we couldn’t convert our chances. I loved our effort, I loved our compete level and loved our 120 minutes of play, especially defensively. We didn’t give up a lot of chances and we had a lot of chances but we didn’t convert.”
COLONIALS MUST CONVERT
It’s great to generate chances, but frustrating to not put them away. In that regard, the last three weeks have been about as frustrating as things can get for the Colonials, who have managed to score more than two goals only once during the span.
The scoring drought must come to an end if Robert Morris is to achieve a postseason to remember. To that end, Schooley indicated that the week has included a good amount of time in small space games during practice designed to help put the close chances they’ve been missing on away.
“We don’t have any time to wait, so hopefully the chances keep coming and we’re able to convert on them,” he said. “It’s been playoff hockey, that’s why there’s been so few chances both ways and I think everybody’s getting their team in the playoff mindset and we’re no different. We just need to put everything together. At the beginning of the year, we were scoring goals and not defending well. Now we’re defending well and we’re not scoring goals. At the beginning of the year, the power play was very good and our penalty kill was struggling. Now, it’s getting better and the power play is struggling. We need to put it together: offense, defense and special teams. Those are going to win hockey games.”
FAMILIARITY WITH FALCONS
The weekend will mark the fifth, sixth and potentially seventh games played between the two schools this season. Thus far, the Falcons hold a 2-1-1 record against the Colonials, taking a sweep at home while taking a loss and tie at RMU Island Sports Center on Jan 19-20.
The two teams met in somewhat similar circumstances two years ago, with the Colonials needing three games at home to advance to the semi-finals. The Falcons have a good blend of skill, speed and a disciplined defensive approach and will be a very difficult out. They’ve recently scored victories over-top level teams in Canisius, RIT and Army and have demonstrated that they’ve got more than a puncher’s chance against any team in Atlantic Hockey.
“We struggled killing penalties when we were at Bentley earlier, and we did a much better job against them here and we just need to continue that,” Schooley said. “We know they’ve got some offensive talent Carlins, Schmidt, Santerno and Tanner Jago on defense, their goaltending in Argue and Pelino have been good. We know each other very well and we’ve played each other four times already. We need to be ready to come out ready to go, because if you don’t, it could be a short series or if you really come out dialed in it could be a short series in your favor.”
EXPERIENCE MAY BE THE DIFFERENCE
It’s been said by many a coach, that a team’s seniors are often either a team’s best players, or their worst. For this Colonials team, the seniors will need to play at their best if they are to advance. The fate of their season seemingly rests on the shoulders of leading scorer Brady Ferguson, team captain Alex Bontje and the rest of a senior class that been a part of both regular season success for the school, and have playoff success that matches it. That experience could very well prove to be the advantage necessary to propel the Colonials to the second round as it can serve as a calming or motivating factor on the bench and on the ice.
“This group of seniors are (8-4) in playoff games and they’ve been through a lot,” Schooley said. “They’ve been through two championship games, they’ve been through a game three, they’ve been through being the favorites and the underdogs. They’ve had their backs to the wall too. They have to draw from that experience and use it and the sophomores had a great run last year and the juniors have had some great runs and they’ve got to teach our freshman that we’ve got in the lineup what it means to play in playoff hockey.”