NEVILLE TWP. — For any team, learning a lesson following a loss can be a key. That’s especially true for a young team. The weekend split with Army West Point wasn’t a bad result for the Robert Morris men’s hockey team, but the 2-1 loss on Saturday in a very winnable game showed that the young Colonials still have some learning to do.
Maybe young isn’t exactly the right word. It’s true that RMU has 10 freshmen on the roster and there’s even three of them playing on the same line at times. But it’s not just the freshmen that are having growing pains early in the season.
“We say we’re young, but it’s more inexperienced,” head coach Derek Schooley said. “John [Rey] didn’t play much like last. We’ve got [Robert] Powers and [Elias] Ghantous that didn’t play much. That’s three of our six defensemen, right there. Then, we have guys up front taking a step. Brandon Watt, people like that. Guys are taking steps.”
One of those guys is senior forward Ben Robillard. After missing most of the last two years with injuries, it was hard to know what to expect from Robillard this season, and starting off on the fourth line for the most part, it seemed as if he wasn’t going to be relied on for a lot of goal scoring. He didn’t score a ton freshman in 2013-14, either, as he had just nine points in 37 games.
But so far this season, despite the limited minutes, Robillard already has two goals in six games. That’s on pace for 12 goals in a 36-game season, which would go a long way toward developing the scoring depth that RMU will need if they want to make a run in the AHC Tournament.
A strong performance could also help Robillard secure an extra season, as his injury-plagued 2015-16 season could qualify him for a medical redshirt and a fifth year of eligibility.
After giving up six power play goals the previous weekend at Canisius, Robert Morris allowed just one against the Black Knights. The PK unit finished the weekend 8 for 9, improving their success rate to 71.8 percent on the season. That’s still second-worst in the nation, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
“I though the penalty kill unit did a much better job,” Schooley said. “Everything that we’ve been working on in practice, we used. We kept them to the outside, created pressure, and I think they’re finally getting it. I think that’s what we’ve been pushing for. … We had a poor performance at Canisius, followed up with a pretty good performance at Canisius and then followed up with a goose egg [Friday].”
Schooley called Army’s power play goal Saturday “flukey,” as a weak shot through traffic slipped under the pads of freshman goaltender Francis Marotte.
The other area of improvement for Robert Morris was the number of penalties taken. Although the Colonials collected 12 minor penalties, three of them were of the offsetting variety. The nine times shorthanded is only a modest reduction, but Army is the most physical and aggressive team RMU has seen this season.
WHERE THEY STAND
Due to a scheduling quirk, Robert Morris is the only Atlantic Hockey Conference team to play six conference games thus far. Because every other club has at least two games in hand, the Colonials are in third place despite their 2-3-1 record.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story of where Robert Morris stacks up against the competition. The top two teams in the conference are Army and RIT, each of which have 3-1 conference records. The Colonials dealt each of those teams their only conference loss.
“[Army] was undefeated and at the top of the standings,” Schooley said. “We did a good job. We had our chances, but we didn’t get the ultimate prize of four points this weekend. That’s something where you just keep learning, keep building and keep getting your young kids experience.”