This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Robert Morris finding secret to healthy season is ‘to manage the scenario and take care of your body’

Robert Morris returned to the national rankings this week, coming in at No. 19 in the Division I Men’s Poll (photo: Justin Berl).

In a season that’s been extraordinary for a number of reasons, Robert Morris has looked to keep things as “normal” as possible.

The Colonials have managed to play 17 games so far this season, the most of any Atlantic Hockey team.

“You have to manage the scenario and take care of your body,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley, in his 17th season at RMU. “Manage where you go and who you’re with.

“We’re fortunate to have played a lot of games. (In early January) we played 7 games in 13 days got beat up pretty good. Now, we’ve gone 20 days and played just three games.”

Those three games were all against Mercyhurst. The Lakers won the two in Erie before the Colonials came out on top on home ice.

Playing the same teams multiple times is how the league has addressed the travel issue this season, keeping overnight trips to a minimum.

“It’s ramped up some rivalries,” said Schooley. “When you see the same teams multiple times you learn what tendencies they’re going to exploit on you, and what you’re going to exploit on them.”

The “pod” scheduling means that second-place Robert Morris won’t face first-place American International in the regular season, nor will the Colonials play Army West Point, Bentley, Holy Cross or Sacred Heart.

“We’d prefer to play everybody but understand the situation,” said Schooley.

The Colonials own the top offense in the league, averaging just under four goals a game.

Leading the way are a senior and a freshman. Nick Prkusic, in his final year, has a team-leading 20 points so far, while rookie Randy Hernandez is right behind with 18, including seven goals.

Hernandez came to RMU via the national development program as well as the USHL and AJHL.

“He’s really matured as a hockey player,” said Schooley. “He can absolutely fly. We like the maturity of his play and how he’s developing.”

In net, another freshman has made a big impact. Noah West won the starting role back in early December, posting a 7-2 record with a .915 save percentage.

“Noah’s been very consistent for us,” said Schooley. “And (senior) Dylan Lubbesmeyer has come in for emergency relief and has done that job well. It’s a good tandem.”

RMU will look to stay near the top of the standings down the final stretch. The most important thing is to stay healthy with an eye on the postseason.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said Schooley. “We had a decent number of (COVID) cases in November and December and you never know what’s going to happen.

“But if you would have told me at the beginning of the year that we would have a chance to get in 24 games, 17 or 18 in league play, I’d take it.”

More is better

From January 28 through February 22, a total of nine Atlantic Hockey conference games were played, with just two postponements. That’s one of the highest success rates so far this season.

The most games played in a week was 12 back on December 4-9. Since then, several programs “paused” to comply with COVID-19 protocols. Most are back.

The league is hoping this trend continues as several teams have a lot of ground to make up.

The goal is to get in 18 conference games, based on the recent schedule update by the league. Several teams will be hard pressed to meet it, even if no more games are postponed or canceled.

– Canisius has played just five games so far, all in conference, and there are 10 more currently remaining on its schedule.

– Sacred Heart has just six conference games under its belt, but has played eight overall. The Pioneers still have a whopping 12 games remaining on their schedule.

– Other teams with 10 games remaining on their schedule: Army West Point (12 games played so far) and Holy Cross (14 games so far).

– The teams with the least remaining games scheduled are Niagara (13 games played so far) and Robert Morris (17 games played), with seven each.

The key number of games to get in is 13, the amount needed for eligibility for the NCAA tournament.

Because of the uneven number of games played, standings are compiled this year based on points percentage I.e. the number of points taken vs. the number possible. A regulation win is worth three points, while overtime and shootout wins are valued at two points, with the loser getting the remaining point.

Big month ahead

As we enter the final month of the regular season, who’s hot and who’s not?

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Air Force: The Falcons got their first win of the season on Monday, and look to keep things going at Holy Cross this weekend.

American International: at 13-3 (11-1 in conference), the Yellow Jackets are seventh in the Pairwise Rankings. But the PWR won’t be the sole determinant of the NCAA field this season.

AIC has won eight of its last nine, including four shutouts. The Yellow Jackets have allowed only two goals in their last four games.

Army West Point: The Black Knights have just one loss in their last seven contests, allowing two goals or less in their last four. They’ll take on first-place AIC on Thursday.

Bentley: After dropping five of their first six games, the Falcons have won two of their last three. They’ll face Sacred Heart in a two game series this weekend.

Canisius: The Golden Griffins are just 3-2 thanks to extended downtime in December and January that saw Canisius play just three games over a 65-day span. They’ll face off against rival Niagara this weekend.

Holy Cross: The Crusaders have dropped eight straight dating back to December 9. They’ll take on Air Force this weekend.

Mercyhurst: The Lakers put together a four-game winning streak in mid-January, but dropped a pair of games to close out the month.

Niagara: NU has just one win in its last nine games. The Purple Eagles will look to change that against Canisius this weekend.

RIT: The Tigers (6-4-2) have played just twice since January 3. They’re scheduled to play a home-and-home series with Mercyhurst this weekend.

Robert Morris: RMU opened 2021 with six straight wins, but has lost two of its last three. The Colonials host Long Island University this weekend for a pair of non conference games.

Sacred Heart: The Pioneers were 1-2-1 in January and look to get in 12 games in February.

Getting the ‘W’

Air Force defeated Bentley 4-3 in overtime on Monday, chalking up its first victory of the season.

The Falcons (1-9-1) prevailed in a back-and-forth affair, with Willie Reim netting the game-winner 3:14 into the extra frame.

“It’s been a tough go,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said after the game. “Getting our first win is more relief than joy. There is just no substitute for winning. Being ahead and then giving up the lead and falling behind 3-2 in the third, many young teams would have given up. Not our guys. They stuck together, battled and found a way to get it done. (Goaltender) Alex Schilling was the best player on the ice. He made some big-time saves for us.”

Air Force has played just two NCAA home games so far this season, but will be at Cadet Ice Arena for four of its final six.