Robert Morris will have its hands full this weekend when red-hot Air Force visits 84 Lumber Arena for a two-game series against the Colonials.
The Falcons (14-6-4, 9-3-3 Atlantic Hockey) have won five games in a row, matching Minnesota for the longest active streak in Division I, and they have lost just once in their past 11 games (7-1-3). They haven’t been beaten in regulation since Nov. 29.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said.
These teams met Nov. 16 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, and Air Force escaped with a 4-3 victory — its fifth win in a row against the Colonials. Robert Morris fell behind, 4-1, before clawing back with two goals late in the third period.
But both teams look different now.
After a two-win first half, Robert Morris (6-13-3, 6-6-3) is 4-1-1 in January. The Colonials recorded a 4-4 tie and 5-2 victory against American International last weekend.
For Schooley, it’s easy to see the difference. There’s better effort, he said, and a certain mindset and intensity that weren’t there before.
When Air Force senior goaltender Jason Torf was sidelined with a groin injury earlier this month, Falcons coach Frank Serratore turned to freshman Chris Truehl to fill the hole. Truehl, who spent the 2012-13 season with the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League, never flinched. He is 5-0-0 with a 1.45 goals-against average and two shutouts since taking over as the starter.
“Anytime you have to replace a senior who has done as much for their program as Jason Torf has, that’s a tall order,” Schooley said. “But [Truehl] has come in and done a good job.
“Hats off to him for his start, but we’ve got to make sure we get out and test him right off the bat. We’ve got to get pucks to the net, get traffic to the net, and we’ve got to win battles around the net.”
Air Force forwards Chad Demers and Cole Gunner are as dangerous as ever. Demers, who scored twice against the Colonials in November, has 10 goals and a team-high 29 points. Gunner is only a step behind, leading the Falcons with 11 goals to go with his 28 points.
Schooley said it will take a full defensive effort to slow an Air Force offense currently clicking at a pace of 3.12 goals per game.
“That’s the way hockey is,” Schooley said. “If you don’t bring your best effort, you’re going to get beat. Your best effort includes playing well defensively, coming back on the back-check and picking up your man in the right spots.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.