Robert Morris learned last winter just how thin the margin between a good season and a great season can be in college hockey.
The Colonials finished just shy of an NCAA tournament berth despite a program-best 20 wins and will carry that lesson into the program’s 10th season. The Colonials are 0-2-1 so far.
“Last year absolutely taught us how important each game you play during the season is,” said senior captain Colin South. “Had we won one more game during October or during the playoff run, we would’ve been in the NCAA tournament. It goes to show you can’t take any nights off.”
Robert Morris will play host to two teams from the Big Ten, which added hockey to its conference sports landscape, in the next two weeks. It starts with a home-and-home series against Ohio State tonight on the road and Saturday at Island Sports Center, followed by a Nov. 1 game at home against Penn State.
A natural rivalry has developed with both teams. Ohio State played in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, and Penn State played first as a club team, then as a varsity team with no conference affiliation last year.
“We probably view it more of a rivalry than they do, because they’re bigger-name schools than us,” said South. “They’re Big Ten schools, big names. So to knock off one of those schools would give us a lot of confidence because of the name. But I don’t think there’s any call for extra motivation. We’re looking to get one in the win column.”
Robert Morris, which plays in the Atlantic Hockey Association, has fared well against both, said coach Derek Schooley, compiling a 4-1-1 record against them.
“They’re both in a, quote, power conference and they’re going to have some players we never had access to try and get in the recruiting process,” said Schooley. “They had the same recruiting, budgetary advantages and big-school name advantages, but we found a way to come up with wins in the last few years.”
The Colonials lost several key figures from their 20-14-4 team of last season, including goalie Eric Levine, forwards Adam Brace and Zach Hervato and defenseman Brendan Jamison.
But leading-scorer Cody Wydo, who had 21 goals and assisted on 12 last year, and South, who finished third in scoring with 13 goals, 14 assists, have returned.
Sophomore goalie Terry Shafer started the first game this season and freshman goalie Dalton Izyk started the second, but left after making 11 saves on 12 shots and will be out for a month with an injury.
The team opened the season with two losses at 15th-ranked Lake Superior State, then tied Niagara, the AHA’s regular-season champion last season.
The next step is to get a win.
“I love our effort, passion, and determination so far,” said Schooley. “But we need to make sure we do everything we possibly can within the context of the game and the context of practice and able to change those close games. We need to define roles and turn those close games into wins.”
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez.