Following a sweep at the hands of the RIT Tigers last weekend in which Robert Morris outplayed their opponents throughout but twice came up short on the scoreboard, the message from Colonials head coach Derek Schooley this week was a simple one.
“We need to flip the script on losing close games,” he said. “We’ve got to start winning them. We need an unbelievable effort with unbelievable results, that’s what will cure anything that ails us.”
The Colonials are coming off the sort of weekend they’re painfully all too familiar with this season. It was a series that saw momentum swings go the wrong way for the Colonials. After scoring critical goals that either tied or put the Colonials ahead, the Tigers answered in quick fashion. The effort was there, but the results are becoming more urgent as the season gets longer.
“The puck’s just not going in for us and it’s going in the other direction, but our effort was good, our defensive coverage was good and we did a lot of very good things,” Schooley said. “One of the things that we have to make sure that we focus on is after we score a goal, we’ve been giving up too many goals right away and it’s something that we’ve got to do a better job of bearing down on because that’s momentum in a hockey game.”
The Colonials’ issues are the sort of thing that good teams work through by staying positive and keeping their battle level and intensity at a high standard.
“Luck is a combination of preparation and hard work,” Schooley said. “We’ve got to prepare and work and make sure we do the extra stuff after practice to work on our shots and putting pucks in the net. For the most part we’re getting our chances, we out-chanced RIT on Saturday night and they scored more goals than us. We’ve got to make sure we bear down around the net and if we give a really good effort, we’re bound to get the breaks sooner or later. It’s when your effort could be better that you don’t get the luck or the breaks.”
SCOUTING THE YELLOW JACKETS
However, the task will not be easy this weekend as a revitalized American International team enters the picture with a team that’s showing remarkable progress under second-year head coach Eric Lang. AIC has already won half of their entire win total from a year ago, including big road wins at RIT and Penn State. It’s a very young squad, much of which came together as freshmen after coming over from Europe.
They’re led by freshman defenseman Brennan Kapchek, who has managed 12 points in 10 games while sophomores Martin Mellberg and Janis Jaks lead up front with 10 and nine points, respectively. In the net, be on the lookout for freshman Stefano Durante, who brings a 3-1-0 record and a 1.47 goals against average into the weekend, having seemingly replaced Zacharias Skog for the short term.
“This is a completely different AIC team from the players down to the helmets,” Schooley said. “They’re a well-coached team, they’re getting good players and they’ve found their niche and their niche right now is trying to get skilled European players to help make their program better. It’s not gonna be easy for us. They’ve won three in a row. They beat Penn State. This is not the AIC from years ago. They’re playing very well and we’ve got to be ready to go. We can’t afford where we’re at right now to not get the effort that we need to give.”
INJURIES CREATE OPPORTUNUTIES
Overall, the Colonials have been relatively healthy, but the injury list is starting to expand. Forwards Nick Prkusic and Ryley Risling have already had more playing time, and they’ve made the most of it as both have already scored their first goals of the season and have had many other good chances.
“We’ve got three of our top 11 forwards out,” Schooley said. “Matthew Graham is out, Kyle Horsman is out and so is Brandon Watt. So, other people are getting opportunites to step up and they’ve got to look at it as they’re trying out for spots later in the year when games are meaningful and everybody’s healthy again.
The days of calling one of these games a blowout are pretty much over. Expect two hard fought battles this weekend and some skill and skating setting the stage for a great series to partake in as a fan. Either team could sweep here and it would surprise nobody that’s been paying attention. But at the end of the day, it may just come down to who needs these points the most at this time of the year. Given that, it’s hard to bet against the Colonials this weekend, as they take two one goal victories, 3-2 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday.