The Robert Morris Colonials open their inaugural Division I season this weekend with a pair of games against Canisius, and they’ll be doing it with a contingent of largely unknown players. Twenty of the 25 players on the RMU roster are freshmen, and only two players eligible for opening night (Kurt Wright and Doug Conley) have previous NCAA playing experience.
While it may take opposing CHA coaches a little while to learn the names on the Colonials’ scoresheet, they are already more than familiar with the team’s head coach, Derek Schooley.
The 34-year old Schooley spent five seasons on Frank Serratore’s staff at the Air Force Academy from 1998 through 2003, serving as an assistant coach for four years before being promoted to associate head coach in 2002. The rookie head coach says his time with Serratore prepared him for his current position.
“Frank is an excellent coach … He gets the most out of his players every day,” said Schooley. “They’re challenged by him, and players like playing for him. They respect him and they work hard for him. Just watching him, day in and day out, I’ve learned so much about coaching. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model or a better mentor in preparing me for this job.”
The relationship between Serratore and Schooley actually dates back more than 15 years. The teenage Schooley was a defenseman on the Serratore-coached Omaha Lancers in 1989-90, a team which won both the USHL regular-season and playoff titles. Schooley led league blueliners that season with 50 points (11-39) and was named to the All-USHL Second Team.
And while his exploits on the ice were impressive, Serratore always saw Schooley as a coach in the making.
“Derek was always the kind of guy that was not only a good player, but he was a coach’s player, a thinking man’s player,” said Serratore. “I always felt that he would be a good coach. He was a guy I always thought would probably go into coaching, because when you were outlining a game plan, he was always thinking about what you were saying. A lot of guys just sit there and take it, and say ‘OK, let’s go.’ Derek would have questions and would analyze what we were doing. He looked at it as a coach as well as a player.”
Serratore isn’t the only CHA coach who guided Schooley during his playing days. Wayne State’s Bill Wilkinson was behind the Western Michigan bench during Schooley’s stay with the Broncos (1990-94).
“Derek was the type of player who had limited skills, but he made up for a lack of talent on the ice with the mental part of the game,” said Wilkinson. “He was always involved verbally, he was a good thinker on the ice and could probably out-think opponents rather than out-play opponents. He was always a guy that was involved in the mental part of the game. He tried to get his teammates up for games. Those all are good attributes as you go on in the future and you want to get into coaching.
You might expect the long distance bills in the Schooley household to feature a page of numbers with the 313 and 719 area codes preceding them. But Serratore said there’s no need for the newest CHA coach to come looking for advice.
“Derek doesn’t need any pointers, he’s a sharp guy,” Serratore stated. “He went in five years from being a volunteer assistant [at Cornell] to a head coach. That’s getting on the elevator and going up fast.”
But what kind of results is one to expect from a first-time head coach guiding a new team with nearly two dozen rookies? Wilkinson, the only head coach in Wayne State history, knows all too well the challenges facing a first-year Division I squad.
“We’ve talked a little bit about having some patience,” said Wilkinson about his talks with Schooley. “Being a young coach, it’s hard, because you want to do it now. But being a young team, it’s going to take time. That’s one of the things when I was developing this team at Wayne State, you really have to have patience that first year. Derek will see as he goes on that he’s going to take his lumps. But that develops character as well.”
That’s undoubtedly true, but Serratore thinks his former student will have the Colonials in the win column before too long.
“I think you’re going to be very surprised at how well he does,” Serratore said. “Right now in the hockey development chain, it’s a bigger jump from midget or high school to Junior A than it is from Junior A to college. All Derek’s kids are 20-year old freshmen, and they’ve played a ton of junior hockey.
“Now, to expect him to compete against Boston College, that’s not fair. But not all the teams in hockey are Boston College. With the schedule he’s playing, I think people are going to be very surprised with how well they do as a first-year team.”
Jason Bloomingburg was little more than an afterthought as a member of the 2002-03 Providence Friars. The freshman left wing appeared in just half of the school’s 36 games that season, posting an unremarkable six points (3-3).
Bloomingburg transferred to Wayne State after the season, and sat out the 2003-04 campaign as a result. But it appears that the year-long wait to see the Detroit native has paid off for the Warriors.
The 6-5, 200 pound sophomore netted four goals in the first week of non-conference play — including his first collegiate hat trick — as Wayne State split a pair of contests with Clarkson.
In the Warriors’ season opener last Saturday, Bloomingburg tied the score at 2-2 late in the first period, then evened things at 4-4 with his second of the game 1:35 into the third period. He capped the evening by notching the game-winner with less than five minutes to play.
The hot stick kept burning on Sunday, as Bloomingburg put Wayne State up 3-2 with a power-play tally late in the second frame. The Golden Knights fought back valiantly, though, scoring three times in the final 20 minutes to pull out a 5-3 win.
The four-goal performance was good enough to earn Bloomingburg CHA Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“I think Jason was very anxious to get back in the swing of things,” said Wilkinson. “The weekend was just a bonus for him, because he’s worked so hard through the year that he had to sit out.
“It was a great surprise for us. Anytime you get a kid to come out and get four goals on the weekend is a real bonus. I didn’t expect that. Certainly Jason’s a hard-working forward for us that’s going to be an integral part of our team. But what he did on the weekend was a great start for his career at Wayne State.”
Bloomingburg wasn’t the only newcomer to have a big weekend for the team. Freshmen Adam Krug and Tylor Michel skated on a line with the transfer, forming a trio that clicked right from the start.
“We knew [Michel] had skills. We recognized his skating skills and puck skills playing with the Owen Sound Greys in the Western Jr. B League,” Wilkinson stated. “He’s playing with his roommate, Adam Krug, and they both get along so well, on the ice as well as off the ice. So that combination just hit it off effectively early.
“Tylor shoots the puck well, he’s got good skating skills, and he plays with a pretty good edge. He and Bloomer are similar type players, where I think Tylor has a little bit better skill level to him, they both play on the edge.”
Michel picked up assists on two of Bloomingburg’s Saturday goals, and netted the first goal of his career shorthanded on Sunday to garner the CHA Rookie of the Week award.
The city of Canton, Ohio, is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Could Canton, Michigan, serve a similar function for the CHA?
The city of 85,000 sits about 30 miles outside of Detroit, snuggled neatly about halfway between Ann Arbor and Dearborn. So it should be no surprise that this suburb of ‘Hockeytown’ produced two of the top players from the CHA’s first weekend of play.
The aforementioned Bloomingburg and Air Force netminder Peter Foster, who took home league Defensive Player of the Week hardware, were both born in the town.
Foster stopped 21 shots in a 3-2, shootout loss to Bentley in the opening game of the Quinnipiac Cup tournament, then turned aside 15 shots for his second career shutout in a 4-0 win against American International.
Hockey flows through Foster’s veins, as his father, Dwight, played 11 years in the NHL with the Boston Bruins, Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings.