Team of the Week: Robert Morris
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley has gone through this season trying to navigate the ever-present questions about the future of the CHA and hockey in Pittsburgh.
So it's nice when he can simply sit back and watch his team have a week like the last one.
With a win over Princeton and two over Niagara, the Colonials are the new CHN Team of the Week.
Though RMU is safely ensconced in third place in the five-team CHA, the wins over second-place Niagara — shutting down its potent offense in the process — were a huge mental boost. And with games looming against first-place Bemidji State and a powerful Miami team, also much needed.
"Our schedule is not easy," Schooley said. "It's not an easy trek down the road. But the nice thing is we're playing these teams at home. ... Notre Dame was great to come play at Mellon (Arena) and I can't say enough about Rico (Blasi, Miami's coach). Quinnipiac has been in our building, Princeton came here."
The wins were all the more impressive considering that four of the team's top 12 forwards were sitting out injured for the Princeton game. The fourth line had a total of nine college games played in their career between the three of them. Two of the players — Brett Hopfe and Jake Sparks — returned for the weekend.
"We played real hard and played through it," Schooley said. "We played very excited and positive and with a lot of energy. That was the key."
"We battled through it and got production from people we had been expecting but hadn't had breakouts yet."
The biggest example is Sean Berkstresser. An 11-goal scorer a year ago, the junior Berkstresser hadn't scored this season since the team's very first goal in the opener against Canisius. But this week, he had seven points in the three games.
"Over the last two weeks, he had been our best player in practice," Schooley said. "He's been getting chances, the results just hadn't happened. I was very pleased with how he was playing, and he wasn't getting the results he wanted.
"He got the monkey off the back."
Just as importantly, if not moreso, was the solid play from junior goaltender Christian Boucher, who had been touted as an all-CHA candidate coming into the season, but has struggled with a goals against average over 3.50 and save percentage below .900.
"He went through a funk like everyone does," Schooley said. "Then when (senior backup) Joe (Tuset) was playing well, (Boucher) puts pressure on himself and had non-Christian Boucher games. It's easy for him to get down. But he played well versus Princeton."
Tuset earned time after Boucher struggled, shut out Merrimack, defeated Notre Dame, and had another win this week.
"He forced his way into the picture and you can't argue with his results," Schooley said.
As for the conference turmoil, Schooley said he wishes the league could just settle into a rhythm without having to worry about it. But this past week, it was revealed that Wayne State applied to the CCHA and Bemidji State applied to the WCHA.
Whether these are desperation moves on the part of those two schools, concerned that the CHA might soon disappear, or just shots in the dark, or just "cover your rear" type of moves, is not known. But fact is, if the five current CHA teams banded together, then there would be no need for those other schools to look elsewhere, because the NCAA appears set to build in an exemption for the five-team league to maintain its automatic NCAA bid.
Still, it's been a tough ride and sometimes a distraction. And adding insult to injury, the week Robert Morris pulled off the huge win against Notre Dame, was the same week Pittsburgh learned it might lose the Penguins, which have been a great support to the Robert Morris program.
"We're still going to be on pace to keep our bid," Schooley said. "But that's not my focus right now. It will be in the offseason. We have to worry about what we can control. The decisions for the league and whether teams are staying or going are made at a higher level than the coaches."