Robert Morris (3-3-2, 2-3-1 Atlantic Hockey) vs Sacred Heart (2-4-2, 1-2-0 AHC)
3:05 p.m. Saturday, Northford Ice Pavilion, Northford, Conn.
3:05 p.m. Sunday, Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, Conn.
The Robert Morris Colonials return to Atlantic Hockey action this weekend as they tangle with the Sacred Heart Pioneers in Connecticut. For the Pioneers, it’s been a rough series to say the least, as they’ve lost nearly every matchup with RMU thus far. But many of those have been one goal games that could have gone either way. The speedy, feisty nature of Sacred Heart is still intact and it is a veteran group the Colonials will have to contend with, with some very skilled forwards and underrated goaltending.
The Colonials come in riding the wave of a three point weekend against then-No. 11 Ohio State that saw them take a 6-2 win on Friday night in Columbus and a 4-4 tie at the 84 Lumber Arena on Saturday night. The Colonials freshmen took part in their first victory over a nationally ranked opponent, which had to instill a level of confidence in the team overall. The freshmen not only took part in the weekend, they were supplying key elements of the performance either on the score sheet or in the net.
They’ll have to put all that aside this weekend and sharpen their focus for an opponent that had a good confidence boost as well. The coming weekend will be a challenge for the Colonials, whose next lesson may just be how to keep confidence from becoming overconfidence by staying sharp and committed to the process of improving every game, no matter who the opponent.
“We can’t get caught up in the past, we always have be focused on the next game,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “They’ve got some really good hockey players and they’ve got good goaltenders in Brett Magnus and Nathan Perry and they’ve got a solid defense. They returned an awful lot. They had to rebuild after a couple of years ago after a dreadful season and that group that they have there are now seniors and junior so they’re an older, experienced team. We just have to make sure that we’re focused and ready to play.”
Lost in the weekend that was versus Ohio State, was the fact that both Schooley and the players in the dressing room both know improvements aren’t just a week to week thing in college hockey, it is an ongoing process, one that has not only to be monitored by the coach, but rooted into the team’s habits by the senior leadership of every team. So far, the Colonials have been blessed with very good senior leadership early on in the campaign.
“We just need our consistency to get better,” Schooley said. “We need to make sure that things that we address and improve are things that we aren’t constantly having to chase, plugging holes, where one hole gets plugged up and another leak appears. We want to make sure our special teams keep getting better, and we want to make sure that we’re pushing the pace and the tempo. This is a year that we said was going to be a learning process and we’re getting better every week and I still don’t think we’ve hit our ceiling.
“Our leaders have been outstanding and I can’t say enough good things about how Rob Mann, Ben Robillard, Daniel Leavens and John Rey and all of our leaders and seniors have been. They welcomed a big group of freshman in and we had some things that we wanted to work on within our locker room and they’ve done a great job of welcoming everybody and keeping everybody on the same page. There’s going to be ups and downs, there’s going to be trials and tribulations and different aspects of things that creep into our locker room. They’ve all done a good job of making sure that they’re doing things the right way, and that was a big mandate going into the season of changing a few things within our locker room that needed to be improved.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RMU: For Robert Morris, there’s a great deal to watch. Brady Ferguson leads the way with 13 points, and Alex Tonge is tied for the team lead in goals with Ferguson at six. Skilled defenseman Eric Israel now has 11 points early in the campaign and is on his way to one of the most productive seasons for a Colonials defender in years.
SHU: Goals have been hard to come by early on for the Pioneers, but there’s plenty of talent on hand. Jeff Carroll leads the way so far with 6 points on the young season, but forward Justin Danforth has yet to catch fire. He’s coming off a 20 goal season and if he picks this week to turn on the jets so to speak, and the same goes for forward Jordan Minello, the Pioneers could be a very tough out
RMU: We could see both goaltenders in the pipes this weekend. Freshman Francis Marotte has been one of the biggest, most pleasant surprises of the young season. In six appearances, he’s kept the puck out of the net as evidenced by as 1.46 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. Andrew Pikul saw action last Saturday night against Ohio State and simply got better as the game went along, saving his best for last in preserving a 4-4 tie.
SHU: For the Pioneers, Brett Magnus and Nathan Perry may very well split the workload, and while neither has statistics that jump off the page with GAA in the low 3’s, they’re both capable of stealing a win.
RMU: The Colonials took three out of four points against 11th ranked Ohio State with a 6-2 win on Friday and a 4-4 tie on Saturday.
SHU: The Pioneers earned an impressive 2-2 tie on the road at Hockey East foe New Hampshire.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
What’s at stake: For the Colonials, it’s a weekend that they need to take advantage against an opponent who they will not suddenly creep up on. Sacred Heart will know what to expect and will not want stay near the bottom of the standings. They’ve only played three times in conference, but coach C.J. Marottolo knows the virtue of being at or above .500 as the Atlantic Hockey season unfolds. A three or four point weekend for the Pioneers would go a long way towards their goal of securing a possible home ice position come playoff time. For Robert Morris, a three or four point weekend could potentially go a long way towards securing a first round bye. Every point in conference play is critical even in November, and both teams are looking at this weekend as a big series in terms of either getting momentum going forward within the conference, and building on good results from last week. .
All-time: The Colonials lead the all time series with a 14-0-1 record as well as a 2-0 postseason record.
Bold prediction: I like the Colonials to take four points this weekend, and not four easy points either. These games may hang in the balance for a while, as Sacred Heart is one thing on a consistent basis year in and year out: relentless. The effort from the Pioneers will be there and they’ve got a little confidence from last weekend too, but the Colonials may be starting to bring things to another level. This could be a pitfall for Robert Morris, but Schooley has been here before and learned over the years how to keep his team focused in these situations. Sacred Heart will push the Colonials, but will probably not be able to capitalize on enough opportunities to take victory here.