With Penn State hockey making the jump to the NCAA this season, there are currently three local Division 1 hockey programs within driving distance of Pittsburgh. Mercyhurst University (Erie) has been a member of the Atlantic Hockey Association since 1999. Robert Morris University (Moon Township) was also elevated to D1 through the AHA, joining in 2010. In addition to the college programs, the newly formed Johnstown Tomahawks are playing their inaugural season at the Tier II Junior A level, currently the only team in Western PA to do so. Here’s a look at how each club has fared this season, respectively.
Mercyhurst: The Lakers boast an overall record of 11-9-1. With a 9-5-0 record in the tough Atlantic Hockey Association, Mercyhurst sits at second place in the conference. A top-four finish in the conference will award the Lakers a bye in the first round of the postseason conference tournament. Goalie Max Strang (Gilbertsville, PA) was recently named Goaltender of the Week for the Atlantic Hockey Association. Strang has accumulated a goals against average of 1.61 and .954 save percentage over his last six outings (5-1). This was the second time Strang has won the award this season. The Lakers head into a big conference matchup this weekend when they go back-to-back against heated rivals Canisius College (8-11-5).
Robert Morris: While RMU has battled a recent string of injuries, they have hung on to their winning record and tie for eighth place in the AHA. Their 7-6-1 record in the conference (12-7-2 overall) will be put to the test this weekend when they square off against frequent NCAA Tournament contestant Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Colonials have a number of individuals holding their own amongst statistical leaders in the conference. Forward Adam Brace is tied for fourth in the league with 21 points. Forward Cody Wydo is fifth in the league in goals with 10. Goalie Eric Levine is in the top five in both save percentage and goals against average.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are not used to having a below .500 record. However, certain struggles are to be expected when a team steps up to the next level, especially Division 1. While they sit at a 9-12-0 record, Penn State is building a solid base to be contenders in the NCAA for years to come. 15 of the 25 players on the roster are currently underclassmen, including promising rookie goaltender Matthew Skoff (McKees Rocks, PA), leading scorer Casey Bailey and captain Tommy Olczyk (Long Grove, ILL). That is not to say this year is lost by any means. They have recorded big wins lately, including victories against the U.S. National U18 Team, Ohio State and Vermont at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia in front of 19,000 people. The blue and white has a crucial road trip this weekend when they head to East Lansing to face Michigan State in a preview of future Big Ten conference foes.
Johnstown: Making the jump from one level to the next is hard. Performing well in your first season in existence may be even tougher. In their first year, the Tomahawks sport a 19-13-9 record, good for fourth in the log-jammed North division of the North American Hockey League. If the Tomahawks keep their current pace, they will finish in the top 16, thus making the playoffs-an astronomical feat due to the circumstances. The team competes in the 28-team NAHL, a Tier II Junior A league that stretches across the Midwest. They average about 2,300 fans per game in the hockey-starved town, which places them fifth in the league.