Sophomore forward Ron Cramer (New Wilmington, Pa.) and the Robert Morris hockey team came painstakingly close to qualifying for the 2010 Men’s NCAA Tournament, but fell just short in the College Hockey America Tournament.
The Colonials outplayed Alabama-Huntsville for much of their semifinal matchup, but goaltender Cameron Talbot denied all 29 RMU shots as Alabama-Huntsville narrowly escaped with a 1-0 victory.
Robert Morris avenged their loss to Alabama by concluding their season with a 3-3 tie against Bemidji State in the consolation game. Cramer set up goals by J.C. Velasquez and Brandon Blandina in that contest to stake RMU to a 3-1 third-period lead, but Bemidji scored twice in 53 seconds late in the period to earn the tie.
“It was kind of a mixed feeling going into that game,” Cramer said. “Obviously it’s kind of hard to get up but we talked about it and we wanted to send our seniors off in good fashion and to get another win over a ranked team for our program. I think everyone came out and worked hard. Nobody took that game off that’s for sure.”
Cramer, who finished the season fourth on the Colonials with six goals and 20 points, was rewarded for his hard work by being named to the CHA All-Tournament Team.
“It is a huge honor,” Cramer said. “I would have given it up though if the team would have been able to move on to the NCAA Tournament. I credit the guys that I played with. They scored some goals to get me a couple of assists and I was able to make the team. It is a great honor though.”
Cramer said the Colonials, who just completed their sixth season at the Division I level, continued to prove throughout the CHA Tournament how far they have come as a program under head coach Derek Schooley. Last season the Colonials dropped a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime decision to Bemidji State in the championship game.
“My freshman year we lost in overtime in the championship game,” Cramer said. “This year we lose by one goal again. Talbot, the goalie for Alabama-Huntsville, played a great game. We had lots of opportunities but we just weren’t able to get one by him.”
Although Robert Morris came up short in their quest to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, they can certainly hold their heads high following a season which they proved they can play with the elite teams in the college hockey landscape.
Robert Morris played a combined 17 games against four of the 16 NCAA Tournament teams. In those games the Colonials went a respectable 6-8-3, including back-to-back victories in early January over the Miami (Ohio) Red Hawks, whom NHL.com has ranked as the No. 1 team heading into the tournament.
The Colonials also went 1-1 against Alaska-Fairbanks, 2-4-1 versus Bemidji State and 1-3-1 against Alabama-Huntsville.
When the Colonials took on Miami the first weekend in January they weren’t playing their best hockey, but Cramer said the team came back intent on proving they could skate with the best teams in the country. Those victories served as the impetus for a strong conclusion to the season down the stretch.
“Those were our first two games back after Christmas break,” Cramer said. “We worked hard in practice that week and talked about turning our season around. We knew we were playing the No. 1 team and we only had a couple wins at that time, but we never doubted ourselves. We knew we had enough talent in the room.”
Most of that talent the Colonials have will be returning next season as Robert Morris graduates only three seniors. Among the returnees will be All-CHA first-team all-stars Nathan Longpre and Denny Urban, second-team selection Chris Kushneriuk and all-rookie squad member Stefan Salituro. One of the three graduating Colonials, defenseman Dave Cowan, was also named to the second-team.
Next season the Colonials will play a whole new slate of opponents as the team moves to the 12-team Atlantic Hockey Conference where they will take on programs such as Mercyhurst, Holy Cross and Connecticut. Expectations will be higher for the Colonials in their new conference home, but Cramer believes the team is looking forward to the challenge.
“I know we are all excited to get into a new conference and not have to play the same teams six or seven times throughout the year,” Cramer said. “We are going to get some variety in our schedule. We think we can do very well in that conference.”