Playoff march begins tonight for Robert Morris men's hockey

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Who said March Madness was limited to college basketball?

The Robert Morris men's hockey team will play host to Mercyhurst tonight in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey Association postseason tournament. The winner advances to a best-of-three quarterfinal beginning next week. The loser gets a head start on the offseason.


Today

Game: Robert Morris vs. Mercyhurst, first round, Atlantic Hockey Association tournament.

When: 7:05 p.m. today .

Where: Island Sports Center.

More info: For ticket information, visit RMUColonials.com or call 412-397-4949.


"We've played in one-game knockouts in College Hockey America for the past six years, so we're used to them," Robert Morris hockey coach Derek Schooley said. "It's a Game 7 in hockey, a one-game winner-take-all. You can't hold anything back. You have to be ready from the start."

The tournament champion earns an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.

It is Robert Morris' first AHA tournament experience after competing for six seasons in College Hockey America. It is also the first home playoff game in program history.

"We've been playing really well at home, so having the home crowd, having family there, it's going to be quite an experience," said senior forward Nathan Longpre.

He hopes the Colonials can build on their stellar record this season at the Island Sports Center. Robert Morris is 9-1-3 this season in games played at Clearview Arena.

That sole home-ice loss holds some significance because it came Nov. 19 against the visiting Lakers.

Robert Morris (18-11-5) and Mercyhurst (14-16-4) split their season series with each team winning one game and the teams tying the third.

The two teams are the only Division I hockey programs in Pennsylvania. Penn State will begin Division I play in 2012-13.

Schooley said the Lakers have a terrific goaltender in Ryan Zapolski, who made 50 saves in Mercyhurst's 3-1 victory against Robert Morris.

The Colonials outshot the Lakers, 51-23, in that contest, which was Robert Morris' first loss of the season in regulation.

Schooley said he hopes his team can sneak a few past Zapolski by creating traffic in front of the net.

"We have to make sure we go to the net hard and get greasy, ugly goals," he said. "It's not always the prettiest goal in the playoffs. They all count the same."

When the two teams tied, 4-4, Feb. 12 at Mercyhurst, the Colonials needed to score two goals in the final two minutes of regulation to send it to overtime.

The Lakers boast a trio of scorers in Scott Pitt, Paul Chiasson and Taylor Holstrom, who each have 30 points or more this season.

Schooley said the Colonials will have to rely heavily on junior goaltender Brooks Ostergard, who has a 1.67 goals against average in three career playoff games.

Longpre is one of five members of the winningest class in the seven-year history of the program.

Although he is proud of the level to which he and his fellow seniors have raised the program, he hopes his work is not done.

"It's pretty substantial, how far it's come," Longpre said.

"We played in a lot of big games, a lot of big wins. I just don't want it to end yet."


Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.


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