Road Success Puts RMU Hockey In Prime Position For Regular-Season Conference Title


RMU senior center David Rigatti takes a faceoff in a game at Army earlier this season. Rigatti is one of eight Colonials with 100 games of NCAA experience. (Photo: Paul Bereswill/RMU Athletics)

NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – The Robert Morris men’s hockey team was having so much fun on the road, it decided to stay away for an extra couple of days.

OK, so maybe the first-place Colonials would’ve preferred to return from Colorado Springs on Sunday afternoon as planned, before a massive snowstorm in Chicago forced them to reschedule their flight for Monday night.

Still, the unexpected long weekend in the Rocky Mountains couldn’t have been that unpleasant after a two-game sweep at Air Force stretched their winning streak to six. Combine that with a similar sweep the previous weekend at Holy Cross, and 19th-ranked RMU (19-5-4, 16-3-3 AHC) has opened up an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Hockey standings with six games to go.

The Colonials’ perfect 4-0 road swing boosted their chances for their first-ever regular-season title from probable to a virtual certainty. At the same time, it was not a significant departure from their results on the road all season, where they have lost precisely once in 12 games (8-1-3).

“I didn’t even know that stat,” senior center David Rigatti said upon being informed of the road record. “Really we don’t do anything different on the road than we do at home. It’s just sticking to the game plan and playing for each other. That’s what I love about this team.”

Of course the goal in any sport is to maintain consistency no matter where the game happens to be played, but taking two from Air Force in the thin air puts an extra feather in RMU’s cap. Not only had the Colonials lost seven straight games in Colorado Springs, this past weekend marked just the third time in 10 years that the Falcons were swept at Cadet Ice Arena.

“We come into the (road) games focused and play the way we know how,” said junior wing Zac Lynch, who was named AHC player of the week after scoring six points at Air Force. “It’s just really been working out for us.”

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Lynch is one of eight Colonials who have played in over 100 NCAA games, with four more on pace to break the century mark before the end of the season. That’s not to mention the goalies, either, one of whom (junior Terry Shafer) has 53 starts entering this weekend’s series against Canisius, and the other (sophomore Dalton Izyk) who was spectacular during last year’s run to the NCAA tournament.

Add that volume of competitive ice time to the extensive postseason experience this group gained last spring, and you have a team that is uncommonly poised in pressurized situations. That can only help when playing the villain in an opposing arena.

“Our guys have bought in and know how to play in big games,” said head coach Derek Schooley. “They know what’s at stake and they bring the extra effort. It shows the character of our group…they believe and they’re confident.”

Last Friday’s remarkable 5-4 overtime win at Air Force was a dramatic display of the Colonials’ road determination, when factoring in their history in Colorado and that they capped their two-goal comeback with Tyson Wilson’s extra-attacker goal in the final minute.

However, it was the third time this season RMU has earned at least a point when trailing by two in the third period on the road. The Colonials also pulled off the feat Nov. 21 at American International (5-5 tie) and in their memorable outdoor game against nationally-ranked Bowling Green on Jan. 3 (2-2 tie).

Additionally, their two-game whitewash at Holy Cross last month featured a pair of one-goal wins. In those games, RMU had to defend against six skaters in the final minute – including a 6-on-4 power play for the Crusaders late in the first game.

All this success on the road has essentially clinched a first-round bye in the AHC tournament and a second-round home series, both of which would be firsts in 11 years of RMU Division I hockey.

The Colonials have just three true road games remaining – anything in the postseason away from Neville Island would technically be neutral-site – but what they’ve done as the visitor has helped put them in the best position possible to raise the conference trophy again.

“Every single weekend we’re out there working our butts off, blocking shots, getting pucks in deep and skating hard,” Rigatti said. “It’s all coming together really well.”

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