At practice Thursday, a handful of Robert Morris hockey players sported the foundations of soon-to-be playoff beards. If the Colonials have it their way, the razors won't be coming out anytime soon.
Robert Morris' postseason run begins tonight with the first match of a three-game series against American International at the Island Sports Center.
"We're definitely excited for this weekend, want to see how far our beards can go," senior captain Trevor Lewis said.
While the facial hair may have just started, the playoff mentality has been going for three weeks now. The Colonials last six regular-season games came against Mercyhurst, RIT and Air Force, teams that finished fifth, third and first in the final Atlantic Hockey standings.
The Colonials went 2-2-2 over that stretch and just missed out on their bid for a first-round playoff bye. Still, Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley and his players agreed that the tough games prepared them for the playoffs.
"We've played the best that there has been," Schooley said. "All the games have been tight, and we feel like we're ready. We feel like we are playing our best hockey."
A big part of that improved play has been senior Brooks Ostergard's work in net. After splitting most of the season with junior Eric Levine, Ostergard played all six games down the stretch. Against such elite competition, he posted a 2.17 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. In both games against RIT, he made more than 40 saves.
Especially in the playoffs, the spotlight on goalies can brighten. As a freshman, Ostergard led the Colonials to the CHA championship game, where they lost in overtime to Bemidji State. He said he tries to keep his preparation the same, but he relishes the challenge.
"I think all the great athletes, regardless of sport, appreciate the pressure and the position you're in when it's a more meaningful venue," he said.
Ostergard said he and his senior classmates have been waiting three years for this and were looking forward to leaving their mark on Robert Morris hockey history. They have the most wins of any class in program history, but Ostergard said the goal from day one has been to make an NCAA tournament.
"Personally, I feel this is the best team I've ever been on and I think everybody feels that way," Lewis said.
While the seniors have been through the playoff grind before, the Colonials also will look for contributions from their freshman class, which has accounted for 69 points this season. One of those freshmen, Cody Wydo, leads the team with 12 goals.
Even though the freshmen have never played in a college playoff, Schooley said he wasn't too concerned about their postseason preparation, pointing to their experience in juniors.
"You just have to go out and play," Schooley said. "You have to play to your ability and play how you've been playing. Don't change your game."
The Colonials will take on American International at 7:35 p.m. today, 7:05 tomorrow and 7:05 Sunday, if necessary.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.