Robert Morris is Staying on Track
Colonials' Program Looks to Take Next Step in Postseason
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
It’s not easy to build a college hockey program — especially in a city where the NHL reigns supreme and a state where only one other Division 1 hockey program existed until this year. But Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley has built the Colonials from the ground up since their inaugural season in 2004-05.
When RMU first added Division I hockey, many were surprised to see the Colonials win eight games in their first year. Since then, Schooley has recruited both local and national players to come to Pittsburgh and slowly improve the team. Now, for the first time in school history, Robert Morris notched a 20-win season, with a chance to add more to the win column this weekend.
But like a true leader, Schooley is quick to deflect credit to the players.
“The senior class has done an excellent job in leading our hockey team and putting everything in place for a successful season,” Schooley said. “They were very welcoming with 11 new players to our team, and they did a lot of team building stuff, trying to set the tone on how we wanted this season to go.”
Following their humble coach, the senior class credits the underclassmen and others with the success.
“I think (the credit goes to) the freshman class,” senior forward Adam Brace said. “It gave the older guys a youthful energy. It kind of revamped the team and changed the dynamic by adding a few bigger forwards that changed the tone of games for us that we haven’t had in the past.”
Schooley agreed that the new players to the team, like 6-foot-4 freshman Brandon Denham and 6-foot-2 freshman Matt Cope, added a much-needed physical presence to the team. But their cohesion as a unit and a hockey system stems from guys like Brace, who leads the team with 40 points and 14 goals, and defenseman Brendan Jamison.
“But I guess that shows the character of our hockey team when the seniors are giving credit to the freshmen, when they themselves are deserving of a lot of the credit,” Schooley said.
Jamison, a Pittsburgh native and RMU’s captain, thinks the Colonials methodical improvement over the years is a result of simply doing things the right way and staying true to the system and values. In fact, the spirit of Robert Morris hockey is not unlike that of the city it calls home.
“We’re just some honest, hard-working guys,” Jamison said. “I think as soon as you get there, you realize you can either play like that or it’s just not going to work out. That, combined with continually getting better players as the years go on, definitely helped us reach 20 wins.”
Sure, a solid system and a good foundation of core values helps, but it also helps when the other team can’t beat your goaltender.
Through the first half of the season, senior goalie Eric Levine boasted a 1.81 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage. In the Three Rivers Classic at Consol Energy Center (the site of this year’s Frozen Four), Levine saved 51 shots en route to a 1-0 shutout of then-No. 5 Miami.
While his statistics have regressed (2.49 GAA, .932 save percentage), Schooley still thinks he is one of the biggest contributors to this team.
“Eric’s a kid that has been waiting for this opportunity, and he’s taking advantage of it,” Schooley said. “I think we have improved as a team and Eric hasn’t had to be as lights-out as he was the first half of the year. But he’s been very solid, and he’s been our best penalty-killer lately.”
Jamison said the defense has improved as a unit recently, and now they don’t need to put everything on the goalie’s shoulders.
“Levine saved us in a lot of games this year,” Jamison said. “But I think the defense really started coming together as a corps and helped him out a little bit.”
While the Colonials have set a program record for wins, they are still right where they were last year — in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. Last season, the road ended here for RMU when it fell to Niagara.
This weekend, they head to Connecticut to try to make the next step toward improving the Colonials brand of hockey. Luckily, they are at the top of their game — the Colonials are riding a seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2).
“We just have to keep everything consistent now,” Jamison said.
“It’s hard to win in the playoffs, and it’s especially hard to win on the road,” Brace said. “But we’re playing our best hockey of the year going in there.”