December 2, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Critical Connection

Robert Morris and UConn Trying to Make Most of Special Teams

by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Reporter

Special team play can be critical when it comes to winning or losing a game. A power-play goal can swing the momentum. Same can be said for killing off a penalty.

It can also dictate how far a team can go in a season.

For Connecticut and Robert Morris, special teams play has been a bright spot this year. The Colonials’ penalty kill is ranked No. 2 in the country, killing of penalties at a 94.2 percent rate. Only Yale's numbers are better. On the other side of the puck, the Huskies' power play is clicking at 27.3 percent, second in the nation behind Harvard.

But neither unit has propelled the teams to continued success.

The Colonials have allowed only three power-play goals, and two of those came against Michigan State on Oct. 28. They killed off 19 straight penalties before allowing a power-play goal to Army on Nov. 26.

But that’s not even the Colonials' longest streak of the season. They started season by killing their first 23 penalties.

“We’ll kill whatever is thrown at us,” head coach Derek Schooley said. “We’ve done a good job at it. We have a lot of confidence in our penalty kill right now.”

The Colonials' penalty kill has been clicking on all cylinders since day one of the season. They went six games without allowing a power-play goal. That streak ended against Michigan State.

Much of the Colonials' success on the penalty kill can be traced to the senior leadership. According to Schooley, players like Nick Chiavetta, Brandon Blandina, Trevor Lewis, Furman South and Ron Cramer, all seniors, have been killing penalties for most of their time at Robert Morris and know what to do.

“When you take a group of guys that have been doing it for three and four years, they perfect what they’ve been doing,” Schooley said.

“You can’t put a premium on experience in special team situations.”

Along with an experienced group of forwards, the Colonials also have two experienced goalies in Eric Levine, a junior, and Brooks Ostergard, a senior.

“The old statement that your goalie is your best penalty killer has been true," Schooley said. "Our goaltenders have done their job as well as our forwards and defensemen have done their job. It’s been a combined team effort."

While the Colonials have been keeping the puck out of their net on the penalty kill, the Huskies have been scoring almost at will on the power play. The Huskies have scored 15 power play goals this year, including five against Sacred Heart.

Head coach Bruce Marshall credits the system that the coaching staff has implemented on the power play for the success.

“We’ve been pretty successful at staying within our structure and getting the team to bite,” Marshall said. “You create the opportunity where you can attack from there.”

But the system doesn’t work without the players. And unlike the Colonials, the Huskies rely on many underclassmen on the power play. The Huskies’ main power play unit is run by Alex Gerke, Brant Harris, Billy Latta, Sean Ambrosie, and Cole Schneider. Harris, Latta and Schneider are sophomores while Gerke and Ambrosie are juniors.

While Latta, Harris, Gerke, Schneider and Ambrosie have their own style of play, they have gelled well on the power play. Harris leads the group with five power play goals, while Gerke, a defenseman, is second on the team with three. Latta has five assists on the power play.

But they’ve had some adjusting to do before they got to where they are now.

“The hard part with the group is that they have so much skill,” Marshall said. “They’ve had to learn to play within structure and then use your skill from the structure.”

Having the second best power play in the country gives the Huskies confidence, Marshall said, even if the percentage is skewed by a five goal outing against Sacred Heart.

The five power-play goals in one game are the most scored by any team in the nation on the power play this season.

“Whether it skews it or not, we were still able to connect on those five opportunities,” Marshall said.

Both UConn and Robert Morris sit in the middle of the Atlantic Hockey standings with seven points. The Huskies are looking to end a three game losing streak, while the Colonials won consecutive games for the first time this season on Nov. 11 and Nov. 25.

The two units will go head-to-head when Robert Morris travels to Storrs, Conn. on Jan. 20 and 21 to take on the Huskies.

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