Robert Morris at RIT
Friday and Saturday 7:05 p.m.
Polisseni Center, Rochester, N.Y.
You might as well get straight to the heart of the matter if you’re the Robert Morris Colonials, who embark on their 2016-17 regular season campaign with a rather large crop of incoming freshman. Their opening-weekend opponent is as good an early test for them as they could want, and in the same city, against the same team that ended their prior march to the NCAA postseason tournament.
When last the two teams met back in March in the Atlantic Hockey finals, the RIT Tigers punched their ticket to the big dance with a 7-4 win over the Colonials. The loss ended the careers of the most successful class of seniors in RMU hockey history. The Tigers stand a good chance of making a third straight appearance, having been selected as favorites in both the Atlantic Hockey coaches and media polls.
This weekend in Rochester is a measurement for both teams. For the Colonials, who have a larger than normal amount of players to work in, it’ll be a weekend to see how they stack up in a hostile environment against a quality opponent. There’s also the revenge factor of playing a Tigers team that ended their season a year ago. Former Colonials forward Zac Lynch didn’t seem to forget about that when wishing the team good luck.
— Zac Lynch (@ZLynch84) October 7, 2016
For the Tigers, it’ll be a weekend to try to get a hot start and an early conference leg up in the standings against an opponent who just might end up being in the title hunt in late February. For those that had thoughts of the Colonials simply easing themselves into the regular season, think again! These games are just as important as the ones that are played in February and Colonials head coach Derek Schooley and staff will be looking for results as well as improvements where his players are young.
The quality of the incoming classes has improved with each and every class Schooley has brought to the program, this one is no exception and players will be expected to come in and contribute sooner rather than later.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RMU: For the Colonials, look for offense from a stout top line consisting of right wing Daniel Leavens, center Brady Ferguson, and freshman left wing Matthew Graham, who looked very speedy and skillful in his preseason game appearance versus Queen’s last Saturday. Also keep on eye on senior right wing Ben Robillard, who’s had an injury plagued career thus far, but has shown flashes of brilliance when healthy. If he can remain so, the effect would be like receiving an extra top line quality forward and would make the Colonials scoring depth much better.
On the defensive side, captain Rob Mann and junior Alex Bontje are both large and imposing figures with deceptive skill and puck moving abilities. One thing this team has going for it from the first puck drop will be an experienced defense corps that can get the job done, throw in senior John Rey and the speedy sophomore Eric Israel and one come make the argument that RMU might have one of the deepest, skilled defensive units in the conference.
RIT: For the Tigers, scoring depth leads the way. Leading scorer and noted Colonials killer Josh Mitchell may be gone, but junior forward and captain Myles Powell and sophomore Gabe Valenzuela lead the way, with both capable of 40-plus point seasons this year. On the backline, look for the Norrish brothers to lead the way as Chase and Brady Norrish are among the most skilled back liners in the conference.
RMU: Dalton Izyk, Senior
RIT: Mike Rotolo, Senior
If the goaltending goes according to plan, it’ll come down to Izyk vs Rotolo. Izyk comes off a year in which he spent the second half of the season injured, but has the skills necessary to regain the top form that saw him become a playoff go-to guy three years ago and a starter in his sophomore season.
Rotolo is coming off an injury riddled season where he missed two months, but came back strong just in time for postseason action to solidify the Tiger net. When both are on top of their game, they’re among the best in the conference.
All Time: Robert Morris leads the All Time Series with a combined 10-7-4 record.
RMU: Skated to a 2-2 tie with Queen’s (Exhibition)
RIT: Defeated Brock 3-0 (Exhibition)
Bold Prediction: RIT’s experience here probably gets them a win on Friday, but some power play goals and a stellar performance from Izyk and the defensive corps get the Colonials a tie on night two.