Confidence, home ice give Robert Morris women's hockey some playoff boosts

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For Robert Morris women's hockey, the program's progression in the CHA tournament has been a series of baby steps.

After two years of first-round blowout losses, the Colonials took Wayne State to overtime in the first round in 2009, ultimately falling, 4-3.

The next year, they finally won their first postseason game, beating the Warriors, 3-1, before falling to Mercyhurst, 7-1, in the semifinals.

Last season, Robert Morris advanced to the CHA semifinals for the second year in a row but again fell to Mercyhurst, this time, 3-1.

The Colonials will open the CHA Tournament at 3:45 p.m. today at home against Niagara. They're hoping to take that next step this year, and the stars might just be aligned for them to do so.

"We feel good," Robert Morris coach Paul Colontino said. "I think for us, it's not something you can turn on and off. We feel we've done a real good job of trying to maintain that 'on' button for when it's time to play."

With only four teams in the CHA this year, the second-seeded Colonials already are just two wins away from their first conference title. Either they or Niagara will face the Mercyhurst-Syracuse winner for the championship Saturday afternoon.

Robert Morris also will have the advantage of playing at home for the first time in their playoff history.

"It's awesome," Colonials senior Paige Pietrangelo said. "We've got our dressing room, we've got our lounge, we've got our own beds."

The Colonials are coming off the best regular season in program history, but Colontino and his players were quick to point out that that means little in a one-game knockout scenario.

"We've all played each other, and all the games we've played in conference have been so close," sophomore Thea Imbrogno said. "It's kind of just going to be whoever comes out to play that night is going to win."

Freshman Rebecca Vint has powered the Colonials up front.

With 21 goals and 21 assists, she has broken virtually every single-season school scoring record.

Junior goalie Kristen DiCiocco has been solid for Robert Morris, posting a 1.96 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 28 games.

"I think she's in a great place," Colontino said of his netminder.

"She's done some great things throughout the year, so we're excited for her."

Perhaps, the biggest advantage the Colonials have is confidence.

Mercyhurst, which won the CHA regular season title, has eliminated Robert Morris from the CHA tournament three times over the past five seasons.

No matter how well the Colonials did, they always had a potential matchup against the Lakers -- who they never had beaten, regular season or playoffs -- hanging over their head.

Until this season.

Robert Morris beat then-No. 4 Mercyhurst, 3-2, Jan. 21 for the first victory against the Lakers. Knowing that they have beaten every team they could face this weekend is a huge mental boost, Colontino said.

"It gives you maybe a little bit of confidence, knowing that we've just got to play our game, play extremely well," he said.

"And, if we do those things, good things can happen."

Sam Werner: or on Twitter @SWernerPG.


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