Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Weekend Preview: RMU makes tough trip to Bentley

Sophomore Alex Tonge has 10 goals and 10 assists in 14 games this season. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

Robert Morris (8-4-2, 6-3-1 in Atlantic Hockey) vs Bentley (3-7-4, 2-5-3 in AHC)
Friday 7:05 p.m. and Saturday 4:05 p.m.

John A. Ryan Skating Rink, Waltham, Mass.

Bentley’s John A. Ryan Skating Rink — better known as the J.A.R. — has been kind of a house of horrors for the Robert Morris Colonials so far in the history between the two teams there.  That fact has a lot to do with the type of program Bentley has become over the years as the Falcons have developed into a competitive, hard-working and often winning program since head coach Ryan Soderquist took the reins in 2003.

It’s not quite gone to plan in 2016 so far, but they’ve played much better than their record indicates and have been in nearly ever game so far.

The Colonials come into the weekend carrying some momentum from a weekend sweep of Sacred Heart that featured a gritty, come-from-behind win on Saturday night and some great defensive work to preserve the lead in the third period.  Other than a bizarre start on Friday night and an abundance of penalties, head coach Derek Schooley liked what he saw from his team last weekend.

“I thought on Friday we started slow again, we played 50 minutes out of 60,” Schooley said.  “I thought we got better as the first period went along. Obviously, when you give up a goal in the first minute it gives you a wake up call. On Saturday I thought we played really hard even though we only scored two goals. I thought we were really good defensively and our goaltending was outstanding. We found a way to win a gritty game, and we have to make sure that we can win the high-scoring games as well as the gritty games. It was a hard fought win over a very good Sacred Heart team.”

The 16 penalties over the course of the weekend are an issue, but the way the Colonials were able to confidently kill 15 of them speak volumes about a unit that has come a long way from the start of the season.

“We cannot kill 16 penalties this weekend and expect to have success,” Schooley said. “It just doesn’t happen. We got 15 of the 16 killed and the one that scored didn’t hurt us but we have to do a better job of staying out of the penalty box.”

Schooley attributed the shorthanded success to the team finally buying some of the new concepts installed by first-year assistant coach Michael Gershon, who runs the penalty kill.

“We want to be aggressive and we were trying to understand our schemes at the beginning of the year and we made some changes,” Schooley said. “Obviously, it took our guys some time to get the hang of it and they’ve got it now and are doing a very good job.  We just have to make sure that we get pucks out and deep and take away second chances.”

They’ll be facing a Bentley team with lots of weapons and some very good goaltending. It will be a challenge to win in a difficult place to get points against a team that can win several different ways and normally brings their game to another level against the Colonials.

“They’ve got a very good hockey team,” Schooley said. “They’ve got some very good forwards. Max French is an elite player in Atlantic Hockey. They’ve got some good defenseman on the blueline in [Tanner] Jago and [Alexey] Solovyev and Jayson Argue is a good goaltender. They’ve always been difficult for us to play against there.

“It’s going to be a challenge. it’s a tough building to play in and a very good hockey team that has won some very challenging games non conference wise and is looking to find their footing in the league standings.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

RMU: Brady Ferguson, Alex Tonge and Daniel Leavens may lead the way offensively for the Colonials, but a new line put together last weekend featuring Timmy Moore, Spencer Dorowicz and Luke Lynch proved to be an effective shutdown line while providing some scoring chances at the same time. They’re a hardworking trio that can play gritty with some size and skill.

“They all bring the same mindset,” Schooley said. “They all did their job well this past weekend. They did a good job of shutting down Sacred Heart’s top line, they played in their end, and got the first goal on Saturday night. I can’t say enough good things about how well they worked.”

Bentley:  For the Falcons, French will be a handful. He’s racked up 119 career points which included a 47-point season last year and brings with him elite forward qualities and a scorers touch. Kyle Schmidt is no slouch himself and added 45 points last season as both players lead the attack for Bentley.

“You just have to know where Max French is,” Schooley said. “We saw it last year in the playoffs. He’s an elite player. You have to make sure you know where he is on the ice and you have to play the body on him and do everything well on him or he’s going to make you pay. We can’t allow him to beat our defensemen one-on-one and keep him to the outside. We have to play the same way we played against Sacred Heart’s [top] line last week.”

GOALTENDING

RMU: It should be Francis Marotte carrying the workload unless things go wayward, and he’s been fantastic thus far in 2016 posting a 7-2-1 record, a 1.74 GAA and has stopped 94.7% of all shots faced. He’s currently among the leaders nationally among goaltenders.  If needed, Andrew Pikul has proven more than serviceable in his last two appearances including a shutout win versus Dartmouth.

Bentley: If you’ve seen senior Jayson Argue play in person, you’ll know that he’s one of the better net minders in Atlantic Hockey and although the goals against don’t always bear that out, (2.84 GAA, .915 save percentage) his save percentage and amount of difficult saves are impressive. He’s got size, covers a lot of net and brings some agility. Behind him, freshman Aiden Polino has seen very little playing time and is an unknown commodity at this point.

LAST WEEK:

RMU: Swept the visiting Sacred Heart Pioneers with a 4-2 win on Friday and a 2-1 win on Saturday

Bentley: Lost on the road at Canisius on Friday 4-3 and skated to a 3-3 draw on Saturday

What To Watch For

What’s At Stake: For the Colonials, it’s an opportunity to carry forward their early-season momentum, exorcize some demons in Bentley’s building and to potentially help make sure that if they end up seeing the Falcons in the postseason, it’ll be at 84 Lumber Arena.

For the Falcons, these points are critical. Having played less games than many in the conference so far than some others, these are games in hand, which they are for Robert Morris as well. To have a chance at home ice come March, Bentley will need three and four point weekends sooner rather than later.

All Time: The series between the schools stands at 8-8-2, with a 2-1 Robert Morris advantage in postseason play

Bold Prediction: Bentley has played well in almost all of its games and is somewhat desperate for conference points. Quite honestly, they need results. It’s a good test for the young Colonials who should come out with a split with a Friday loss and a win on Saturday, and one very may well be an overtime game winner for either team.

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