RMU Hockey: Colonials Drawing College-Ready Talent From Unexpected Places


NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – Amarillo, Texas, doesn’t immediately jump to mind when discussing hockey towns, but the Robert Morris University men’s program has made a habit of drilling for talent in oil country.

Located in the middle of the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo is a city of approximately 200,000, many of whom are passionate hockey fans. While rooting for the minor-pro Rattlers and Gorillas or the Bulls of the junior-level North American Hockey League, Amarillo residents have cultivated their love for the sport for the past decade-plus.

Four current Colonials know all about that, as junior Greg Gibson, sophomore John Rey and freshmen Brady Ferguson and Timmy Moore came directly to RMU after playing for the Bulls and coach Dennis Williams, who has since risen up the junior ranks to lead the USHL’s expansion Bloomington (Ill.) Thunder.

“If you look at our guys from Amarillo, they’ve come in and had a leg up systems-wise, because they’ve had to do that type of thing before,” said RMU associate head coach Matt Nicholson. “That comes from the coaching they got from Dennis.”

As all four former Bulls have shown in varying degrees since arriving in Pittsburgh, the coaching baseline established by Williams and company was an ideal preparation for the rigors of college hockey.

“(Williams) was a great coach,” Gibson said. “He does everything that we do at this level now. He does video, he’s very serious about dress code and all that, but he knows when to be serious and when to joke around. We learned a lot from him.”

Gibson, who has established himself as a reliable forward at both ends of the ice, played in all 38 games as a freshman in 2012-13, while the defenseman Rey dressed for 37 of 42 last season and is leaned upon as a veteran on the Colonials’ young blue line. Moore, the younger brother of junior RMU defenseman Evan Moore, made his NCAA debut Saturday at Army.

Colonials junior Greg Gibson carries the puck against Lake Superior State. The Ontario native passed through Amarillo, Texas, before coming to RMU. (RMU Athletics/Jason Cohn)

That brings us to Ferguson, a native of Lewisville, Texas, a northern Dallas suburb. He was fortunate enough to play his junior hockey within a reasonable drive of his hometown, something that would’ve been impossible in the Lone Star State not too long ago.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Ferguson has been centering the Colonials’ third line between David Friedmann and Ben Robillard for the past four games, during which he’s scored two goals and added an assist.

“I’ve gotten to play in a couple games and experience college hockey,” said Ferguson, whose interest in a business degree attracted him to RMU. “The players are a lot better around me, so I just try to be in the right spot at the right time. I’m trying to play defense first and stay ‘below’ the puck.”

That focus on goal prevention is why the RMU coaching staff feels comfortable putting Ferguson on the ice in any situation.

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“He’s done a great job,” Nicholson said. “We knew when we recruited him that he had the skill set to play in a top-nine or top-six (forward) role, but the thing we’ve been impressed with him is his play away from the puck. He’s also taking the puck to the net and using his size. We’re pleasantly surprised with the steps he’s taken early in his career.”

Two of Ferguson’s three points have come on the power play, where he’s filled in for injured senior Jeff Jones for two weeks. That’s lofty territory for a college-hockey newcomer, but the Colonials didn’t reach that decision lightly.

“One thing we try to do with the young guys is make them earn it,” Nicholson said. “We probably didn’t envision him (on the power play) so early, but with Jones going down that’s where we’ve plugged Brady in. The older guys have been here before and know the systems well, so we give them a shot. At the same time, when a young guy is earning it, we want to reward them.”

Although Ferguson lists his speed as his best attribute, his finely-tuned stickhandling and shooting abilities are evident on first glance. He first picked up the game as a youngster in southern California before his family moved to north Texas, so Ferguson is a reminder that high-end hockey talent can come from anywhere these days.

“Hockey in Dallas and California and Florida and some of the non-traditional areas is growing so much,” Nicholson said. “When they’re coming up through the youth hockey ranks, they’re getting better coaching than ever and playing teams from up north.”

Ferguson played a good deal of roller hockey in his formative years, giving him something in common with junior defenseman (and California native) Chase Golightly and sophomore forward Daniel Leavens, both of whom are also gifted with the puck.

“Roller hockey is such an offensive game, so you usually see that the players who have played a long time on the roller rink have really good hands,” Nicholson said. “I’ll call it cross-training since it really does translate to the ice.”

So does high-quality instruction, like the kind Ferguson, Gibson, Rey and Timmy Moore received in Amarillo, of all places. The path to college hockey isn’t quite as narrow as it used to be.