NEVILLE TWP., Pa. — The Robert Morris Colonials Women’s Hockey team returned to the ice for the first time in 923 days, shutting the Cambridge Rivelettes out 3-0 at the Island Sports Center Sunday afternoon. Lindsey Smolen scored the first goal for Robert Morris in the second period, while Mya Neugent and Janelle Evans added to the scoresheet in the third.
RETURN TO PLAY
For many, including a now Colonial hockey parent, it was the culmination of a lot of work.
Men’s head coach Derek Schooley, whose daughter Kaitlyn is a first year on the squad, was visibly overwhelmed at the site, and made mention on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
“A lot to unpack for me today….walked in during @RMUWHockey exhibition game warm-ups with tears in my eyes and such excitement that Colonial Hockey is BACK! I hadn’t even got the point yet that my daughter was playing. Emotions are really going to be flowing on October 7th.”
Logan Bittle echoed those words, but knew that there was work to be done prior to the regular season opener.
“There were definitely some moments today,” Bittle said. “Some emotional time for sure. At the end of the day, once we got onto the bench it kinda felt normal again. I think that that’s the best thing that I can say, that things are back to normal. That’s exciting. Obviously there’s a lot going into next weekend, (and) the following home opener weekend. We’re going to enjoy this one and be ready for next week.”
Graduate Captain Wasyn Rice had an on-ice feel to the day.
“It was almost surreal.” Rice stated. “(Allyson Hebert), (Gillian Thompson) and looked at each other and it was like ‘here we go again!’ and that we’re back. It was so surreal just being out there again.
It took us the first period to get the jitters out because it’s been so long for a few of us, especially the girls that had taken the year here. It took a bit to get the game feel back. We got right back into it, it feels good.”
In net, Emma Gorski (Merrimack, Gr.) and Maggie Hatch will be relied upon to be consistent in this world. Throughout the game, both showed vision and poise to give the essence that that can translate to the regular season. Puck control and positioning were evident, even in an exhibition game. First-year Penguins Elite product Liviya Rubin will be rolling in the third goaltender position for the season.
The defense is where the real test will be. In women’s collegiate hockey it’s not as commonplace to have a number of solid experienced defenders, and Robert Morris has that in droves. Captains Wasyn Rice and Allyson Hebert as well as Gillian Thompson had two years of Colonials experience prior to the return of the program. While the three had not skated in a regular game during the sabbatical, the leadership and familiarity with new head coach Logan Bittle could help with the on-and-off ice translation for the newest crop of players. Chace Sperling, who battled with injuries during her first year on the Island will also be able to help in that sense, returning after a stint from St. Cloud. Transfer Chloe Puddifant (St. Lawrence) adds physicality and experience to a ‘one-and-done’ crew, as four starters are graduate students this year. Kaitlyn Schooley and Thalia D’Elia join as the first-years in the experience-heavy defensive tangent.
On offense, the first thing you see is youth, the second is skill. The offense is led by the top line of Alaina Giampietro (Ohio State, Redshirt First Year). Mya Neugent (Bemidji State, Sr.) and Shailynn Snow (St. Lawrence, Gr.). This combination of players will be heavily relied on for offense this season, but the drop-off to the supporting cast isn’t as it seems. Morgan Giannone (St. Lawrence, So.) provided a more than sufficient level of physicality not seen since the likes of Brittany Howard and Kirsten Welsh, while Madison Primeau (Syracuse, Jr.) brings another facet to the team – experience against the teams the last two season of the CHA. Janelle Evans, Calli Arnold, Brynn Levinson and Lindsay Smolen are also players to watch coming out of the exhibition.
MEET THE NEW (BENCH) BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD (BENCH) BOSS
Leading the squad this year is a familiar face, Logan Bittle. Bittle previously served as the Associate Head coach for Robert Morris, and was a member of the original squad to debut, led by men’s head coach Derek Schooley.
THE ACTUAL GAME
It was every bit of a warmup, as only four skaters were part of the 2020-21 itineration of the Colonials on March 15th, just over two months prior to the teams temporary dissolution. The facts of the game were clear. The majority of the players had on-ice games being played throughout the past two years, but the real questions came on how players were going to fit into the puzzle of the lineup. Physically, the team looked to be one of the tougher teams that had been iced on the Island in years. Raw talent and skill was abundant, and the team was sufficient in the speed column.
The first period was uneventful, as the squad looked every bit of a team coming off of a long layoff. Goaltender Emma Gorski showed every bit of the promise that brought her from Merrimack to the island, stopping six shots by the Rivulettes, but it certainly seemed like many more
Robert Morris found their footing in the second as passes and even strength play became fluid and consistent. Thalia D’Elia and Smolen’s completed give-and-go ‘chip-tip’ from the bottom of the right circle opened the scoring for the Colonials. Sophomore Hatch stopped nine shots in the second frame.
Goals from Neugent and an empty netter by Janelle Evans capped the scoring for the Colonials in the third. Rubin closed off the final 8:09 of the contest, stopping five shots.
The Colonials head to Schenectady, N.Y. to face Union in the first NCAA tilt since the 5-1 loss to Northeastern in the 2021 NCAA first round. Face-off is scheduled for Friday, September 29th at 6:00p.m. and Saturday at 3:00p.m.
The long-awaited home opener occurs on October 7th at 2p.m. against St. Anslem. The contest will be the first regular season game at the Island since February 27th, 2021.