Robert Morris (1-1-0, 1-1-0) at Canisius (1-3, 0-0)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m.
Harbor Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
Following a weekend off, the Robert Morris Colonials spring back into action this Friday and Saturday night in Buffalo, New York against the Canisius Golden Griffins. The two conference foes have a long standing history dating back to the Colonials first season and have been in the title hunt for much of the past four seasons as each has won an Atlantic Hockey Tournament title and appeared in the conference semi-finals multiple times.
So what to expect? Most likely, a pair of close games and lots of adjusting as both sides are working in farily large amounts of new players. These teams have played some fantastic, hard-fought games over the past few seasons that often come down to the wire, and have either been tight, close-checking contests, or opened up to a frenzied pace on rare occasion. Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley will be looking for the same competitive group that his team normally goes up against.
“I’m expecting the same type of Canisius team that’s a trademark of Dave Smith,” Schooley said. “They’re good defensively around the puck, tough to get to the net and you have to work for your extra opportunities and be good down low. Although they may have lost some scoring, they still do have some prime scoring weapons coming back, and we’ve got to be aware of those guys when they’re on the ice.”
Schooley noted the similarities between his squad, which has 10 freshmen, and the also-rebuilding Griffins.
“They’re also a team that’s trying to find out a little bit about themselves too and they’ve had some more games to do that,” Schooley added. “They’ve gone into some tough places and done fairly well. It’ll be interesting for us to see how the bye week effects us. If it’s a negative thing because we’re not playing back to back and getting right in to a flow, or if it allowed us to work a little bit more and be more prepared. We won’t find that out until Friday night. ”
The Griffins come in having played two more games than the Colonials, and against some very stiff competition, as they ventured to play defending national champion North Dakota on opening weekend, then endured the long flight to Alaska to participate in the annual Goal Rush tournament. Those are tough circumstances to begin the year in, but much like Schooley, Griffins coach Dave Smith isn’t afraid of taking on challenges head on to find out what his team is made of. Also, as in the case at Robert Morris, the Griffins have lost huge chunks of offense in the off season as forward Ralph Cuddemi and Shane Conacher have moved on. Early on, it hasn’t been easy to manage goals as the Griffins have posted just three total tallies in their first four games.
For the Colonials, their opening weekend saw them find that trademark resiliency in the Saturday night comeback that saw them erase a 5-1 deficit at RIT. It was a good result for a young team in a hostile environment against the favorite to win the conference. But having said that, Schooley did see some early room for improvement, including adjusting to how the NCAA referees will be calling the action this year.
“We knew that it was going to be called tight, we talked to our team about it and we knew that they were trying to reclaim the rule book and that that there were going to call a lot of the stick fouls,” Schooley said. “We knew that going into the weekend. I thought for the most part the refereeing was fair. The way they’re calling the games, those were penalties. Both teams knew it, and they both got into some penalty trouble. And at the end of the day, both of us found out our penalty kills needed some work. We gave up 11 goals on the weekend and obviously, we want to be better defensively and we made some mistakes.
“We need to do a better job managing the puck and we need to make sure we’re better focused away from the puck. We’re trying to implement some new things that may take some time to adjust. We were playing not young, but inexperienced players. And with that inexperience comes mistakes. We need to do a better job of protecting the front of the net and being aggressive in our own end.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RMU: Forward Brady Ferguson and Eric Israel both played huge roles in the RIT opener, coming out with some weekly conference hardware for their efforts, as well. But also, sophomore forward Brandon Watt has been impressive early. Watt had two points on the weekend, matching his output from last season, and had done a lot that might go unnoticed away from the puck too.
“I thought Brandon Watt had taken a step forward,” Schooley said. “He had two points and was very reliable defensively and did a very good job on killing penalties and played his role.”
Canisius: For the Griffins, junior forward Ryan Schmelzer will look to lead the way for a somewhat inexperienced group of forwards. Schmelzer had 32 points last year. At the back, juinor Jack Stander has been a physical presence on the blue line and can both move the puck as well as play a stay-at-home role.
RMU: Dalton Izyk, senior, 0-1, .882
Canisius: Charles Williams, senior, 1-1, .932
Honestly, there’s no real way of knowing who has who’s net as both coaches have used all three goal tenders available. Will freshman Francis Marotte get the nod one night this weekend for RMU? Will the hot hand roll for RMU, or will roles sort themselves out with a plan? It’s hard to say.
“I thought Dalton Izyk on Friday made some huge saves,” Schooley remarked. “And I think that two of them were routine saves that he should have probably had. Coming off an injury and only getting two shots in the exhibition game, I would have liked to have seen a little less workload than 50 plus shots, but he did make some big saves too. Saturday night, the same thing. We gave up three power play goals in the first period, one was a bounce off of one of our players and one was a poor angle shot. But Francis Marotte came in and held them at bay and that allowed us to come back. When we got that sixth goal to take the lead and Francis was very good and solid down the stretch. We need to be better defensively, but we also need to make sure that we have better goal tending. ”
For Canisius, senior Charles Williams leads the way with a 2.46 GAA in 122 minutes of ice time. He’d be the good bet to be in the cage for the Griffins.
RMU: Had an early weekend off from action. The previous week, RMU earned the split taking a 5-1 loss on Friday and a dramatic 6-5 win on Saturday.
Canisius: Skated in the annual Goal Rush Tournament in Alaska. The Griffins defeated Alaska-Fairbanks 2-1 in OT on Friday and lost to Alaska-Anchorage 1-0 on Saturday.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
What’s at stake: For both teams, a chance to get a tiebreaker edge that may pay dividends come playoff time, and a good chance to measure themselves against a familiar opponent. It’s the AHC opener for the Griffins.
Did you know? The first victory in program history for the Colonials occurred at Canisius, in their first game on October 2004. Defenseman Bill Menozzi recorded the first goal in program history.
All Time: RMU holds the all time advantage with a 15-8-1 record against Canisius including a tournament championship win in the 2014 Atlantic Hockey Championships.
Bold Prediction: Last time out, I fared okay, calling for an opening night loss for RMU and a tie on the Saturday versus RIT. This week, I’m betting that the time off allowed for some skill sharpening and some adjusting on the Colonials part and they come out with a focused game that produces just a little more offense than Canisius, so I’ll go with a 4-2 win for RMU on night one.
Night two, I’m looking for Canisius to make an adjustment or two and play better, but for the Colonials to keep it a 3-3 tie. Three points on the weekend for RMU. I don’t really see a runaway for either side this weekend, they’re too evenly matched. Both teams are working in new pieces and roles and the coaches know what to expect here.