Team of the Week: Robert Morris
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
In case you haven't noticed — and, odds are, you have not — Robert Morris is making serious noise.
Robert Morris, a program that has steadily evolved since coming into existence in 2004, but has yet to make the NCAA Tournament, just came off a stretch of five non-league games against Ohio State, Penn State and Miami — and went 4-0-1.
For the season, Robert Morris is 5-1-1 in non-league games, including a pair of wins over Top 10 teams, with nothing but Atlantic games ahead.
The final two of those gave the Colonials an impressive championship at the Three Rivers Tournament at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center, home of this year's Frozen Four. Robert Morris shut out Penn State, 6-0, and then shut out Miami, 1-0 in the championship game. It could be considered the biggest win in the still-young program's history, though the team beat then-No. 1 Miami twice in the 2009-10 season, so it has competition.
The win against Miami came despite being outshot 51-21. RMU had to kill off two late-third-period power plays. In all, senior goaltender Eric Levine stopped all 99 shots he faced in the tournament.
"It's one of the single best goaltending performances in the history of our program," RMU coach Derek Schooley said. "The best part is, he made it look easy.
"We played hard. We did the little things right to be successful. We put ourselves in great situations."
One of the biggest stops, though, was a blocked shot by sophomore forward Cody Wydo, who was known as a scorer in junior.
"He was forward of the year in the North American Hockey League," Schooley said. "You never would've thought he'd be laying out to block a big shot with two minutes left in the game. It shows you — I think this group of guys plays for each other. We might not have the best talent we've had as a program, but we have the best team. The guys get along so well. It's a testament to our leadership that has welcomed 11 new players to our hockey team.
"They've experienced some success fairly quickly. Let's just hope it doesn't go to their heads."
The only goal against Miami came from Brandon Denham, the first of his career, and came after he almost wound up in Schooley's doghouse.
"His first career goal and first career tongue lashing," Schooley said. "He was redeeming himself for angering me."
As a result, the Colonials are No. 11 in the Pairwise, and would earn a straight up, legitimate, at-large NCAA bid if the season ended today.
Of course, it doesn't end today, and RMU still has plenty of Atlantic games ahead — plenty of opportunities to stub its toe. And when playing in Atlantic Hockey, you don't have margin for error, because your final strength of schedule won't be great. That's why these non-league games were so important to Robert Morris.
"It's a long season still," Schooley said. "But I talked to our guys (before the tournament) and said, 'You know, you want to put yourself in position to know what it feels to win a championship, so you know what it feels like come playoff time.' In tough situations, you can draw on those moments."
Making the championship even more rewarding was the venue where it took place. The Three Rivers tournament came about, largely, through the vision and hard work of Schooley, who is the only coach the program has had. In a few short years, Schooley has proven to be more than just a by-stander in NCAA hockey. He wants his program to be visible, like RIT and Air Force have become, and to do that, he has been active and visible too. And that's a good thing.
"I don't think I could've written a better script," Schooley said. "There were 20 thousand people here for two days. ... It has been a lot of work. A lot from the Consol people, and the Penguins people. We've put a lot of time and effort into this. It's pretty gratifying to see the crowd we had here. I'm just proud we're able to participate in this, and hopefully it's a tradition we'll have for a long time."
Schooley said that Boston College will participate in the tournament next year.