Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley insists that he approached his school’s first-ever Division I game the same as he would any other contest, telling his skaters to just play solid, fundamental hockey in their season opener against Canisius on Oct. 22.
“We just looked at it as a process — go out and do the things needed to make Robert Morris hockey successful. Good things will happen if we play 60 minutes and do those things,” said Schooley. “Every game you want to put a good showing on.”
The Colonials’ showing in their inaugural contest couldn’t have been much better, as Robert Morris surprised the hockey world with a 3-1, come-from-behind win against the Golden Griffs.
“We played with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. We did all the little things we needed to do to win that hockey game,” Schooley reiterated. “We played a great road game, we blocked shots, we gained zones, we got pucks in deep. We played a complete game. It was really exciting. It was a fun time.
“Anytime you can start a program off, that first game with a win, it’s going to be something that you’ll remember … To be able to win that first game was something pretty special.”
The victory was the highlight of an evening filled with firsts for Robert Morris. Freshman forward Bill Menozzi netted the first goal in team history three minutes into the second frame, deadlocking the game at 1. Rookie defender Jeff Gilbert gave the Colonials their first-ever lead with a power-play tally seven minutes into the third, then iced the game with an empty-net goal with two seconds remaining. Christian Boucher stopped 29 shots, including 14 in the third period, to secure his first NCAA victory.
There were plenty of souvenirs. Schooley presented Athletic Director Susan Hofacre with the puck from Menozzi’s goal at a trustee dinner the following night, and took home the winning puck, which he plans to have mounted next to a copy of the game’s scoresheet and hung in the Robert Morris locker room.
“I think it is something that the guys are proud of, and something you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” he said.
The result was reversed the following night outside of Pittsburgh, as the Griffins posted a 5-4 win in Robert Morris’ home opener. The result dampened the excitement of the capacity crowd at the Island Sports Center only slightly as they were introduced to a new and more intense style of hockey.
“There wasn’t a seat available,” Schooley said. “The fans were excited with the level of play. They were really surprised at how much faster it was than junior hockey, which they had seen here before with the Pittsburgh Forge. And they were excited with the physical nature of the game.
“These are 21-, 22-, 23-year-old men playing, and the last time I checked, hockey was a contact sport. There were a lot of bodies being thrown around.”
The 1,000 fans on hand witnessed Brett Hopfe score the first hat trick in Colonials history on just three shots, a performance which earned the Alberta native CHA Offensive Player of the Week honors. He picked up the goals the old fashioned way, earning them with blue-collar efforts of which a steel town’s populace could be proud.
“If you take his three goals and total them up, they total about 10 feet between the them,” Schooley said. “He’s just a determined individual in front of the net. The strength of his game is below the hash marks; that’s where he scored all his goals from, and that’s where he’s going to be successful — going to the front of the net and battling and being determined.
“I’d have a team full of Brett Hopfes if I could.”
Hopfe’s heroics weren’t enough to pull out a second win on the weekend, but Schooley was excited about the start all the same.
“For a freshman team to go out and be able to split their first games, it’s a pretty big deal in college hockey right now,” he said.
Gilbert Gets An Assist From The Griffins
The scoresheet from opening night lists assists for Joe Federoff and Logan Bittle on Gilbert’s first goal, with the empty-netter being unassisted. But the official scorer might want to amend those results, with helpers going to the home team.
Gilbert, who won the CHA Defensive Player of the Week award with four points on the weekend (2-2), snapped a skate blade while walking out for warmups. Without a backup pair or a means to fix the skate, he was forced to go looking for help from the most unlikely of sources.
“He borrowed a pair of skates from Canisius,” Schooley said. “So he scored the game-winning goal and an empty-net goal on a pair of skates loaned by a Canisius player that were a half size too small.”
Busy As A Beaver
Bemidji State took to the ice for the first time last weekend as well, packing three games into three nights. The Beavers took a 5-2 win in their home opener against Ferris State on Friday, then followed that with a 7-2 defeat at the paws of the Bulldogs in the return match.
“It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde weekend for the Beavers. We played as well as we could play on Friday, we played as poor as we could play on Saturday,” coach Tom Serratore said. “Friday we played so well. Our special teams were three for seven, we were tenacious, we pressured the puck, we played well defensively, we got good goaltending. Our freshmen got two goals. It was a great night.
“Then on Saturday, we didn’t get good goaltending, we didn’t play well defensively.”
Sophomore Layne Sedevie was solid in net in the season opener, stopping 19 shots in the win. It was an entirely different story 24 hours later, as he turned aside just seven shots while surrendering five goals in 35:42 of play before giving way to freshman Matt Climie.
“It happens,” a seemingly unconcerned Serratore said of Sedevie’s second performance. “He let in a couple of soft goals right away and that set the tone for the rest of the game. It’s still early.”
The second game had nothing to do with Sedevie sitting out Sunday’s exhibition contest against Manitoba. Serratore’s plan all along was to give his freshmen a good look in the contest, which Bemidji dropped, 5-3.
“We played our freshmen on the power play, the penalty kill. We played our freshmen goalies,” he said. “It was a good game to get those guys a lot of ice time.”
Wanting to get his team some quality playing experience under its collective belt, Serratore scheduled the Manitoba game for Sunday afternoon, even though it would mean playing three games in three days.
“It’s the only time Manitoba would have played us,” he said. “We couldn’t play them earlier, because they had games from Oct. 2 all the way through this past weekend. They were actually off this weekend, but we were playing Ferris. They didn’t want to come and play on a Tuesday, so actually we played the game in Thief River Falls, which is about halfway between Winnipeg and Bemidji.
“For us to get another game in, which we think is important, that’s the only time we could have played. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was a game and our young guys got a lot of ice.”
But now the team is back in practice mode, as they don’t have another game until Nov. 5 when they travel to Minnesota State.
“There’s a couple different ways of looking at it. You can do a couple more things in practice, but you don’t know really a lot about your team until you get into a game situation,” Serratore said of the break. “A lot of times you want to get going right into games. I wish we had some games under our belt, but you can’t control what you can’t control.”
Eagles Off The Schneid
The Niagara Purple Eagles already had three games behind them before Bemidji took the ice, but the 2004 CHA champs were still looking for their first victory. Not one, but two came, in the form of a 6-1 road drubbing of the Vermont Catamounts on Friday, followed by a 3-2, come-from-behind win the following night.
Coach Dave Burkholder knew the win would be coming sooner or later, as the Eagles had dropped hard-fought contests to ranked opponents in Massachusetts-Lowell and Maine.
“As an 0-3 team, we weren’t happy, but we were content with parts of our game. To finally get it done at Vermont was good, which was actually the first ever non-conference sweep on the road for our program. We’ve had neutral-site sweeps and tournaments, but that’s the first time non-conference-wise that we’ve gone in and swept anyone on the road. We made some history. We talked about it prior to Saturday. I thought the guys gutted out a very intense and well-deserved victory.”
Goaltender Jeff Van Nynatten responded well for Niagara after allowing four goals and being pulled after 40 minutes against the Black Bears the previous Saturday, stopping 64 of 67 Vermont shots on the weekend.
“He actually has matured so much in that area. He’s a video guy, he watches so much game tape,” Burkholder said of his goalie’s ability to put the poor performance behind him. “He’s very competitive in practice, he doesn’t take any pucks off. I expected him to come back and have a good weekend.”
What’s more impressive is that all three goals Van Nynatten surrendered were power-play tallies, with the lone Friday miscue coming during a five-on-three.
Niagara was a beneficiary of the referee’s whistle as well, going 4-for-10 on the power play Friday and 2-for-7 Saturday.
“Pretty much you need to be a special-teams specialist and a goalie coach these days,” Burkholder said. “That’s pretty much how the first five games have gone for us. We’re either on the PK, on the power play or working on a lot of 4-on-4s as well.”
Saturday’s contest saw the Catamounts strike for two power-play tallies during the first 11 minutes, before Sean Bentivoglio and Pat Oliveto evened things with man-advantage markers before the end of the first frame. The only goal that didn’t come on the power play was Ryan Gale’s winner, which was scored during a 4-on-4 early in the third.
“It’s an area that we never worked on,” said Burkholder. “We have controlled scrimmages and always overlooked the 4-on-4 situation. But it’s happening so much this year that I think it’s an area that teams can concentrate on and get better at.”
Back On The Bus
Niagara’s seemingly endless road trip continues this weekend when it plays in Potsdam, N.Y., against Clarkson. It’s a much quicker commute than the eight-hour bus ride the previous weekend, or the 11-hour trek to Maine a week before.
It’s not the miles that are taking their toll on Burkholder, but the entertainment selections of some of his players.
“On the way there we watched the Vermont-BU TV game, then pretty much real bad movies that our players are bringing,” he said. “Slap Shot, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It’s awful. Too many long bus rides with that.”
Barret In The Books
Barrett Ehgoetz’s assault on the CHA record books continues. The Niagara senior posted four points (1-3) in the Eagles’ 6-1 win last weekend, moving him past former teammate Joe Tallari and former Air Force forward Scott Zwiers for second place on the league’s all-time points list. His 126 points (58-68) in 110 games are just 16 behind leader Andy Berg, the current Air Force assistant coach who posted 142 points (64-78) in 140 games with the team from 1999-2003.
“He got it going. He pretty much stabilized us on the power play and picked up pretty much where he left off last year,” Burkholder said of the Co-CHA Player of the Year for 2003-04. “When we do have the man advantage and he’s out there he just makes sure that we outwork their four. We didn’t get a lot of pretty goals, it was basically setting it up and getting ugly around their net, which he is probably our best player at.”
Wayne State freshman Tylor Michel has two goals in his young career — with both being shorthanded tallies. That brings the Warriors’ total to three shorthanders on the season, already one more than they totaled all of last year. Coach Bill Wilkinson thinks he knows the reason for the upped output.
“Better people killing penalties,” he said. “That’s the difference, it’s not the system to any great extent. When our kids get a chance to put the puck in the net offensively, they’re a little bit better at it.
“We certainly improved our quickness on the penalty kill. With our system, we’re keeping the puck out of our end a little bit better, so it allows the forwards to get more opportunities to get a break here or there.”
Michel has made the most of those breaks thus far, scoring twice on just five shots.
“He’s got very good skills, quick feet,” Wilkinson said. “He scored a great goal at Merrimack with people on his back, roofed it over the goalie’s shoulder. That type of skill you really don’t teach.”
Special-teams play has been an important part of the equation for most teams this season, with the NCAA cracking down on obstruction. Wayne State is no exception.
Wilkinson’s squad scored three times in nine tries on the power play last Friday, while stopping Merrimack eight times in a 5-1 victory. The following night Wayne State went 0-for-12 on the man advantage, while the home team scored four times in 12 tries to pull out a 5-4 come-from-behind win. The final three Merrimack goals, which came in a four-minute span during the middle of the third period, all came on the power play.
Spreading Out The Scoring
Jason Bloomingburg picked up three more goals on the weekend, bring his total to six for the season, one off the NCAA lead and double the total from his freshman year spent with Providence in 2002-03. But his production is only one reason for the Warriors’ offensive success.
Mike Forgie, who took a medical hardship last season after appearing in only two games, has three goals through four games, Michel has five points (2-3) and Stavros Paskaris has two tallies and three points. The newcomers have taken some of the pressure off of Jason Baclig and Nate Higgins, who were counted on for the majority of the team’s scoring last year and have four points each (1-3) this year.
That balance is also helping the Warriors with the increased number of penalties being called.
“We’re capable of playing more people,” Wilkinson said. “The way the game’s being officiated today, you’d better have a lot of people involved, because you’re going to burn the guys out if you’ve got only two power play units and maybe four guys killing penalties.
“We had 24 power plays on Saturday night between the two teams. You need to have a lot of people. I think that’s going to be a test, who’s got the best balance from top to bottom. That’s really aiding our team this year, because our balance is getting better.”
Alabama-Huntsville goaltender Marc Narduzzi stopped 39 shots in his first NCAA start, helping the Chargers to a 4-2 win against Holy Cross last Saturday. Narduzzi helped his own cause by assisting on Grant Sellinger’s empty-net goal with 14 seconds to play … Narduzzi took home CHA Rookie of the Week honors with his performance … Brendan Cook picked up his first shorthanded goal of the year in Bemidji State’s 7-2 loss on Saturday, giving him seven for his career. Cook was second in the nation with five shorthanded goals last year, and tied the CHA record for career shorthanded tallies with his first of the year.