This season is shaping up to be a big one for the Robert Morris Colonials both on and off the ice.
The Colonials are hosting two tournaments this season. One is the inaugural Three Rivers Classic at Consol Energy Center on Dec. 28 and 29 that also features Penn State, Miami and Ohio State.
The participants in the other tournament won’t be determined until March. RMU is the host team for this season’s Frozen Four, also held at Consol Energy Center.
That notoriety, combined with the NHL lockout that makes Robert Morris the top hockey program in Pittsburgh, makes for a lot of anticipation before the Colonials even hit the ice.
“It’s going to be a historic year with the Three Rivers Classic and hosting the Frozen Four,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “That has given us more name recognition, and certainly at this point with Robert Morris being the top level of hockey in Pittsburgh, it gives us a chance to show what we can do.”
Despite the loss of two all-league players, last season’s Colonials finished with the same league record and just five points out of first place thanks to a large senior class and the goaltending of Brooks Ostergard. RMU finished with the top penalty kill in the nation (89.9 percent).
Schooley said senior Eric Levine (12 games, .921 save percentage last season) will capably fill Ostergard’s skates in net. But the loss of seven forwards, including five of six penalty killers, will be the main challenge.
“We’re comfortable with our goaltending and defense,” he said. “We’re comfortable with our seven returning forwards. Our challenge is seven new players coming in and learning the system and getting used to the college game.”
Robert Morris lost three of its top four scorers to graduation but back are senior Adam Brace, who led the team with 14 goals last season, and sophomore Cody Wydo, who put up impressive numbers in his rookie campaign (13 goals, seven assists).
Levine got valuable time in net filling in for Ostergard, who missed several games last season due to an injury.
When told that another Atlantic Hockey coach said he expects Levine to be in the top five goalies in the league, Schooley said, “We have every confidence in Eric Levine. He’s worked and waited for this chance and he’s going to do very well.”
Among the newcomers is David Friedmann, who scored 44 goals in 89 games last season in juniors.
“He moves the puck and skates well,” Schooley said. “We’re really happy with the size and skill of our rookies (four freshman forwards are over 6-feet tall). We’ve always been an average-sized, good-skating team. But we decided to get a little bigger without sacrificing skating ability and I think we’ve done that.”
Robert Morris is picked to finish eighth in the coaches preseason poll, but did pick up a first-place vote.
“That just goes to show you the parity in the league,” Schooley said. “It shows that there are a lot of teams with a shot to win.”
About the Colonials
2011-12 overall record: 17-17-5
2011-12 AHA record: 13-9-5 (Seventh)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Eighth
Key losses: G Brooks Ostergard, F Trevor Lewis, F Nick Chiavetta
Players to watch: F Cody Wydo, F Adam Brace, D Colin South
Impact rookie: David Friedmann had a whopping 110 points for the Jr. Canadians of the OJHL last season.
Why the Colonials will finish higher than the coaches poll: If several freshman have rookie seasons like Wydo and Scott Jacklin did last season and RMU can get solid goaltending from Eric Levine, they’ll be in contention for home ice.
Why the Colonials will finish lower than the coaches poll: The loss of 10 seniors, including five of six penalty-killing forwards, presents a challenge.