by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Judging by the reactions of some of the masses, Robert Morris' loss to club-hockey powerhouse Penn State last Friday is grounds for kicking them out of Division I. To that, it must be said: "Chill out."
Robert Morris did not have the benefit of, say, what RIT has entering Division I this year. RIT has long been a D-III power, and has some infrastructure in place. The Colonials started from scratch and had eight wins last season.
A 3-2 loss to Penn State, a school that by all rights should be in Division I, is not something to be all that embarassed about under the circumstances.
"They were a legitimate Atlantic Hockey, CHA-caliber team," said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley.
Schooley said the game was rough, because much of the new rules mandate NCAA games are played under, kind of went out the window.
"They did everything they could to win the game," Schooley said.
The Colonials only had five practices under their belt, while Penn State has been on the ice for weeks. And Penn State was hungry to beat an NCAA team.
"It was their Stanley Cup," said Schooley.
Robert Morris is hardly packing it in. In just its second year of existence, the Colonials believe that progress is being made. Last year, they won eight games, including a victory in their first-ever NCAA appearance, at Canisius. They beat Niagara twice, Quinnipiac and Wayne State.
"Last year was our baptism into college hockey, and now you have to take a step before you can run," said Schooley, who believes he has a core of 10 strong players to weave into the mix this year. "Everybody looks to run first — but we're on a four-year plan, and we're one year and one weekend into it. So there's no panic, we're not throwing the season out the window because of one loss. I told our guys after the game that it's 10:00 now, we're over it by 10:10."
Robert Morris has the strong backing of the school, its women's program just played its first two games, the arena, though four miles off campus, is school owned. And with four players from Pennsylvania on the roster so far, Schooley likes the inroads being made there.
When Robert Morris entered the CHA, it was hailed as a savior for the conference that had just seen Findlay drop its program. CHA needs to maintain a six-school minimum membership in order to continue receiving an automatic NCAA bid. But with Air Force announcing plans to move to Atlantic Hockey as of next season, things will get precarious again. This summer, conference athletic directors announced a financial incentive package for any school that's willing to join the league. So far there has only been exploratory interest, in particular from Kennesaw State, a school in Georgia that is considering a move to Division I hockey.
"Until we get a sixth team officially announced, it always will be a little uneasy," said Schooley. "I'll leave that up to the commissioner and ADs.
"But I like our league. It's very competitive. ... This is going to probably be the best year of the CHA. ... Everyone always questions stability, but our ADs stepped up and put together an incentive package, and with that, it should show the stability. College hockey needs our league."
By contrast to the Penn State loss, against Canisius on Saturday, Schooley was pleased despite a 6-4 defeat. Robert Morris outshot the Griffs, 42-19, including 20-1 in the third period. It was the most amount of shots ever taken in a game and period by RMU, and least ever given up in a game or period.
This weekend, the Colonials will head to Western Michigan to play in front of the Lawson Lunatics on Saturday. It's a homecoming for Schooley, who played at WMU through 1994. He another in an extraordinary line of people with WMU ties currently in the coaching ranks.
The coach at the time, Bill Wilkinson, is now head coach at Wayne State. The current WMU staff are all alums, including head coach Jim Culhane and assistants Chris Brooks ('96) and Brendan Kenny ('97), who was Schooley's defense partner as a freshman. Cornell's staff is comprised of Mike Schafer, an assistant under Wilkinson, and WMU alums Brent Brekke ('94) and Scott Garrow ('92). Michigan State assistant Brian Renfrew ('95) played goal at WMU. And Joe Bonnett ('93) is an assistant at Colorado College.
"It's amazing," said Schooley.