ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Here are three takeaways from Robert Morris’ 6-2 victory over the Canisius in an Atlantic Hockey semifinal on Friday.
1. Finishing as the top seed in Atlantic Hockey has not been an easy path to the championship. Since the league’s inaugural 2003-04 campaign, only five regular-season champions have won the league tournament.
Which prompted the question, “Why?”
“It’s very simple: good teams,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “The top seed is a marathon. This is a one-game scenario.
“The league is legit. And to win this league, you’ve got to be great on this weekend. We weren’t great this weekend.”
Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley knows the feeling of being upset as the top seed all too well, having seen his team’s season end at the hands of Rochester Institute of Technology in the championship game last season, and in the semifinals in overtime to Mercyhurst, 4-3, despite outshooting the Lakers 62-29.
“You feel like you’re a failure,” Schooley explained. “But at the end of the day, there’s a lot to be proud of. But it’s tough for them to see that right now.”
Smith recounted the progress the league has made in the NCAA Tournament since his days as an assistant with Mercyhurst through Canisius’ 4-3 loss to Quinnipiac in 2013, in a game the Griffins led 3-1 at the second intermission. He’s convinced that future success and getting multiple AHC teams into the NCAA Tournament is just down the road.
“We had four teams in the top 34 (of the PairWise Rankings). We need three or four teams in the top 24. We need three teams in the top of the PairWise,” Smith said.
“It’s coming. It’s growth.”
2. Atlantic Hockey coaches picked Robert Morris sixth in their preseason poll. But the Colonials, despite losing 10 seniors from last season and welcoming in 10 freshmen, weren’t about to accept this as a rebuilding year.
“Everybody wrote us off,” Schooley said. “We took it as a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to prove that we weren’t going to take a step back as a program. And here we are … we’re going to play for another title tomorrow night.”
Schooley credited the leadership on his team for turning things around quickly: “They’ve done an outstanding job with the stewardship of this team.”
“Our seniors, all our captains, have done a great job and told me just play my game,” agreed junior Brady Ferguson.
Ferguson’s hat trick boosted his team-leading total to 24 goals and 58 points.
Freshman goalie Francis Marotte said that getting a warm welcome helped the large rookie class quickly become part of the team. ”Since we’re a big class, we needed that coming in,” Marotte said.
3. Griffins goaltender Charles Williams ended his collegiate career and a storybook season with the loss. He transferred to Canisius with a year of eligibility left after graduating from Ferris State. He was welcomed immediately and won the starting job.
“It’s been a huge blessing,” said Williams.
Williams has been at the top of the national goalie statistics for the latter part of the season. He ends the year with the top save percentage in Division I at .943 and the third-best GAA at 1.82.
“This year is something I couldn’t have imagined, couldn’t have drawn up this summer,” Williams said. “To be here, to be a part of what we did here this season, is something I will never forget