Look out College Hockey America – the new kids are pretty good.
In only its third season, the Robert Morris University men’s hockey program continues to impress.
With a signature win over now-No. 1 Notre Dame on the road and three triumphs over No. 16 Niagara, the Colonials are turning heads.
And, they are garnering national attention.
College Hockey News, a Web site devoted to college hockey, named Robert Morris as their team of the week for the beginning of February. It’s the first time in the team’s two-plus seasons that it has earned such an honor. Robert Morris went 3-0 in that span, beating Princeton on the road Jan. 29 before sweeping a CHA series with then-No. 16 Niagara to end the week. The Colonials outscored the Purple Eagles, 14-3.
“Niagara was in first place in our league and they continue to do well. They’ve lost three games in the conference all year and all three of them have been to us,” RMU coach Derek Schooley said. “We have their number right now, but we’re going to have two tough games with them coming up. Our schedule isn’t easy right now. We need to be playing our best right now as it comes down to playoff time.”
In addition to the College Hockey News award, junior forward Sean Berkstresser, an Apollo native, was the InsideCollegeHockey.com National Player of the Week and the CHA Co-Offensive Player of the Week. The junior doubled his point total for the year with seven points in three games against Princeton and Niagara. The junior tied the team-record with four points in the Feb. 2 7-1 win over Niagara. He added a goal and an assist versus Princeton and another assist the next night the Purple Eagles.
“Everyone is excited. I am excited to get national player of the week,” Berkstresser said. “Coming out and getting seven points in three games in one week, I never really looked at it that way. I just came out and gave it my all and I got rewarded.”
Also, junior defenseman and co-captain Rob Cowan got in on the act earning the CHA Defensive Player of the Week award. Cowan had three points on a goal and two assists. His only goal was an empty-net tally on an assist from his younger brother, Dave, to cap the scoring in the Feb. 3 5-2 win over Niagara. The brother-to-brother connection was the first ever for the Colonials. The junior added an assist in each of the Niagara games as well.
“Honors are great and it’s well-deserved because our guys worked hard and I am very proud of our players. I am very proud of Sean Berkstresser, the player of the week, because he’s overcome a lot. He hasn’t had a great year this year, but lately, he’s peaking at the right time,” Schooley said. “I am very proud of our guys working their hardest. It’s a total team effort and proud, but you don’t want to relax and think you can stop working because we’re not that good yet. For us to be as good as we need to be, we need to work our hardest.”
Robert Morris wasn’t finished. The Colonials (13-13-1 overall, 9-7-0 conference) swept a two-game home series from league-leader Bemidji State last weekend. It put their win streak at four games and brought them to within two points of the conference lead.
“It’s been a total team effort. We’ve been playing extremely aggressively with a lot of energy and a lot of passion,” Schooley said. “We’ve been very positive and that’s something that we have to continue to do. The harder we play, the better we play. We just have to remember what kind of work ethic we need to bring every game.
“I think we rise to the occasion and we need to keep doing that. Every game from here on out is going to be big and I think it’ll prepare this team for the playoffs.”
It’s been quite an impressive push from a new program to NCAA Division I hockey.
“We’re more mature. I think we have a lot older seniors and juniors. The leadership of our seniors and juniors has been tremendous,” Schooley said. “I think it’s just figuring out how to be Division-I athletes and playing. We took a step forward in the second half of last season and we’re taking steps in the second half this year. I think it’s a matter of finding consistency as well.
“So far, so good. We need to keep taking steps forward. We can’t get complacent and think it’s going to be easy because no game down the stretch is going to be easy. We have to be ready to play our best and make sure we do the things we need to do to be successful.”
Berkstresser knows that he and his teammates can’t relax now that they’ve found success.
“We had to build a team from scratch; it’s our third year now and we have a good team. The players are all working well together. We have to come out every night and work hard and compete because we can’t have one person take a night off,” he said. “To be a good team, you have to come out and put two games together. You have to do play well in back-to-back games if you want to have consistency.”
Consistency is what the Colonials are starting to find this year.
“We beat ranked teams like Notre Dame and Niagara and you look and say, ‘Why can’t we beat any team in our conference or even out of conference because those teams are pretty big,’” Berkstresser said. “We have to come out every game. We played one of our worst teams in our conference and we didn’t do very well. But, when we play big teams, we come out and play well. We just need to play well every game.”
That lesson learned is a valuable one for Robert Morris now that it’s in the final stretch of the regular season.
“It’s the end of the year and we have to keep coming out strong,” Berkstresser said. “We have to keep it up and keep winning.”