NEVILLE TWP.,Pa- Three games in, and so far so good for the Robert Morris Colonials as they prepare for their first two game weekend home stand of the season starting Friday, October 20. Coming off their first two road games of the season, where they managed a win (Oct 8, at Bowling Green) and took a point from a shootout loss (Oct 14, at Mercyhurst), the Colonials will be looking to keep building on what has been some positive momentum gained so far. They will be tested this weekend though in a big way, as an undefeated Holy Cross Crusader squad with some impressive wins under their belt in their first three outings of the season, makes their way to Clearview Arena. It will be an opportunity for the Colonials to test what they’ve got against what appears to be one the best in Atlantic Hockey in the early going.
Here Come The Crusaders
Prior to the program relaunch, the Colonials had been having the better of the series as they owned a 20-9-2 all-time record versus Holy Cross, including four straight playoff round wins from 2017 to 2020. Since then, the Crusaders have jumped a level and then some perhaps. Enter head coach Bill Riga, who took the reigns in 2021 and has steadily moved the program forward in his first two seasons. That growth, was punctuated by a late season run last season. After a rough start, the team went on a 12-8-1 run from January 2023 forward, a run that put the Crusaders in the Atlantic Hockey Championship Game where their season came to an end in a 3-0 loss versus Canisius.
“You’re going to see a really structured hockey team,” Colonial head coach Derek Schooley said regarding his weekend opponent. “They’re very comfortable playing tight hockey games. I think you’re going to see a team that’s coming in with a lot of confidence, and it’s a group that has something to prove.”
The Crusaders have picked up right where they left off to start the 2023-24 campaign, compiling an unblemished 3-0-0 record which includes a home and home, non-conference sweep of Connecticut last weekend. Perhaps the biggest common denominator in all the winning for the Crusaders since last year has been the goaltending of starter Jason Grande and of course the stingy defense that surrounds him. Grande finished the 2022-23 campaign with a 2.33 GAA and comes into the weekend with a 1.00 GAA which includes a shutout in three outings thus far this season. Up front forwards Jack Ricketts, former Colonial Matt Guerra and Liam McLinskey lead a seasoned group of forwards that provide timely and opportunistic scoring chances. Meanwhile, on the back line, junior Matt Shatsky and sophomore Mack Oliphant provide the puck moving to make those chances happen. It’s not a huge team in terms of size, but a speedy team that creates enough scoring opportunities to win but also takes care of business defensively.
Colonials Look to Continue Momentum
One could make an argument that if periods were won or lost as well as games, then the Colonials could be considered 7-2-0 by that standard through their first three games in 2023. After a shaky opening period versus Bowling Green in their hope opener, the Colonials seemingly kept getting better every period, carrying over to a 3-0 road win the next night, and through two periods last Sunday evening when they had the Mercyhurst Lakers down 3-1 in the third period in a game they let a point slip away down the stretch. However, the results are what they are, and currently, that leaves Robert Morris 1-1-1 on the season.
“We are looking not as an expansion team, we just dove right into it,” Schooley said. “We didn’t even talk about us getting the win over Bowling Green the second night or tying Mercyhurst. It’s really easy for us to say good job, we’re 1-1-1 after three games and we’re excited. But you know our standards are a lot higher and our expectations are higher and we want to be great. And to be great, you can’t be satisfied with average.”
Like the Crusaders, the Colonials have been able to utilize strong performances in the net from graduate transfer Chad Veltri who currently owns 1.62 GAA and a 95% save percentage plus a shutout in the season thus far. With Veltri between the pipes, points will be available for the taking on many occasions this year potentially, as long as the scoring chances can be netted. To that end, the power play has been good in the early going with the Colonials pumping in power play goals at a 27.3% rate thus far. Former Michigan Tech forward and graduate transfer Logan Ganie has led the way for RMU with two goals and an assist while freshman McKay Hayes has lit the lamp twice so far. On the defensive side, graduate transfer Cade Townend not only has a goal, but has been noticeable as an early leader in the first three games, displaying a heady approach that gets the job done in tight quarters while still being able to lead quick and timely zone exits that can turn in to offense.
What to Look For
Expect two fairly tight games between two teams that can manage the game very well. Holy Cross brings an undefeated record into the weekend, and it can be hard to tell if that’s ready to come back to reality this weekend against a Colonial side that will be looking to get a bitter taste from a win they should have wrapped up last Sunday out of their mouths. The hungriest team hunts best in this weekend set between to speedy teams with outstanding goaltending.