The Robert Morris University men’s hockey team is pretty good at rising to the occasion against top competition.
Last season, playing the final college hockey game ever at Mellon Arena, RMU shocked the college hockey world by knocking off the No.-1 ranked team in the country, Miami (Ohio), 3-1, on Jan. 8.
Robert Morris hopes to repeat history again at 6 p.m. on Sunday when they host Air Force in the first-ever college hockey contest at CONSOL Energy Center as the marquee attraction of the fifth annual Pittsburgh College Hockey Showcase.
Last season the Colonials, who earlier this summer were chosen to host the 2013 Frozen Four at CONSOL Energy Center, were able to generate a lot of buzz and excitement for their program following the win over Miami, so the hope is that playing the showcase earlier in the campaign this year will allow the team to capitalize on the publicity the game has generated.
“I think the excitement of the building will get people to come see us play,” RMU head coach Derek Schooley said. “Hopefully they will enjoy watching us play and want to watch us play again. The opportunity to play at CONSOL Energy Center is tremendous for us.”
Sunday’s showcase gives Schooley and his squad of 22 returning lettermen another chance to let Pittsburgh hockey fans see the successful program the Colonials are building over on Neville Island. By hosting Air Force on Sunday and visiting perennial power Ohio State two days before that in Columbus, Schooley’s team faces a tough test right off the bat.
“We need to go out and play the way we need to play,” Schooley said. “Sometimes you play well and you lose. Sometimes you don’t play well and you win. We just want to play a complete hockey game. We want to do everything we feel our hockey program needs to do to be successful. At the end of the day, we’ll let the chips fall where they fall.”
Thus far the Colonials have enjoyed a lot of success on the ice, as they have jumped out to their best start since 2007-08 with a 2-0 record following a sweep of fellow Atlantic Hockey Association foe American International last weekend.
Leading the way for the Colonials was senior defenseman Denny Urban (Pittsburgh, Pa.). Urban picked up five points (1G-4A) to earn co-Atlantic Hockey player of the week honors.
Robert Morris also received production from their usual cast – forwards Ron Cramer (New Wilmington, Pa.) and Nathan Longpre, defenseman Andrew Blazek (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and goaltender Brooks Ostergard (Chagrin Falls, Ohio).
“We put 95 shots on goal over the weekend,” Schooley said. “When you do that, you are going to have a lot of success. I was really pleased with how we played offensively. We just have to sure up some things in some other aspects of our game to play a more complete game.”
Not only did the season-opening 4-1 and 6-3 victories give the Colonials confidence heading into this weekend, they also helped continue to raise the program’s profile around the country, as Robert Morris picked up 11 votes in the USCHO.com Top 20 Poll and one vote in the USA Today Top 15 Poll.
It was the first time in school history RMU received votes in the USA Today poll, which speaks volumes to how well Schooley has built his program over the past couple of seasons, although he did caution that his team needs to keep looking forward and not take the recognition for granted.
“We only received one, but it just shows that we have a good veteran team and people have some respect for us for what we have done and what we have here right now,” Schooley said. “At the end of the day the poll is just a piece of paper. We have to make sure we take care of things on the ice and look forward to our upcoming games.”
The 0-2 record Air Force brings into Sunday’s matchup is very misleading. The Falcons opened the season with a pair of difficult matchups last weekend against nationally-ranked Alaska and Alaska-Fairbanks with two young netminders splitting time in the crease.
“They lost an all-league goalie, so they played two goalies their first weekend that didn’t have a ton of experience,” Schooley said. “We need to make sure that we can generate some shots around the net and gets pucks and people around the goal and see how they respond to the pressure of playing Division I hockey.”
While we won’t know for sure until Sunday how well the Air Force goaltenders will respond to Robert Morris’ relentless pressure, we do know that we can expect the Colonials to rise to the occasion and provide fans with an entertaining evening of hockey at CONSOL Energy Center.Notes:
Sunday’s tripleheader action begins with the RMU NCAA Division I women's team opening the showcase against Northeastern at Noon, followed by the Colonial ACHA Division I club program taking on Pitt at 3:00 p.m. The Robert Morris NCAA Division I men's program will close out the showcase by squaring off with Air Force at 6:00 p.m. Purchase of a ticket is good for all three games.