RMU Hockey: Twenty-Win Colonials Continue to Lift National Profile


RMU’s Daniel Leavens (left) and Brady Ferguson celebrate a goal in the Three Rivers Classic earlier this season. (Credit: Jason Cohn/RMU Athletics)

NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – While an NCAA-best eight-game unbeaten streak has boosted the Robert Morris men’s hockey team to the verge of its first regular-season conference title, it has also continued a long-term positive trend for the 11-year-old program.

Sporting an overall record of 20-5-5 with four games left before the Atlantic Hockey Conference playoffs, the first-place Colonials have officially clinched their fifth consecutive season at .500 or better. Dating back to the 2010-11 season, RMU has gone 94-66-24 – good for a .576 winning percentage that ranks 13th of 59 Division I teams and best among the 11 AHC programs.

Furthermore, No. 18 RMU has piled up a 69-51-22 mark in conference games since 2010-11, capped by this year’s 17-3-4 mark that has the team nine points ahead of second-place Bentley with three weeks left in the regular season. Add in last year’s inaugural Atlantic Hockey postseason crown and subsequent NCAA Tournament appearance, and it’s clear the Colonials have reached new heights over the past 14 months.

More from Robert Morris University

“I think what we’re doing really validates what we did last year,” head coach Derek Schooley told Ken Laird and Guy Junker during his weekly appearance on Trib Live Radio. “With a target on our back and being in first place from Day 1 of the season, our guys have really handled it well. They’ve come to play and come to work.

“I said prior to the season that we didn’t want to be a ‘one-hit wonder.’ We can’t rely on the past…we’ve got to build our new future. The guys have bought into that and it’s been a special time for the program.”

The Colonials’ rising stature in college hockey has been a boon in several areas, including media exposure and overall awareness of the university itself, but perhaps its largest impact comes in recruiting. Associate head coach Matt Nicholson can attest to that, as he has been greeted more warmly than when he first started spreading the RMU gospel six years ago.

“Just like anything in life, people want to be a part of a successful program,” Nicholson said. “That’s something we can definitely promote now. The exposure we got in the NCAA Tournament last year and being on national TV was great, but what we’re doing this year has definitely been a positive, too. Coaches and players know how we’re doing and they’re following our progress.

“When I first got here six years ago along with (fellow associate head coach) Mark Workman, the question we’d get was, ‘Are you Division I or Division III?’ That question doesn’t come our way anymore.”

Unlike last season, when the Colonials didn’t secure a winning record until taking the Atlantic Hockey tournament, 2014-15 has seen RMU go undefeated in its first nine (7-0-2) and rise to 12-2-3 after a win over Penn State in the Three Rivers Classic. A 1-3-1 stretch against high-quality opponents during the winter break put the win parade temporarily on hold, but the current 7-0-1 run against conference foes recalls last season’s second-half revival.

“I think you saw the true Colonial program come alive in the second half (last year),” Nicholson said. “We wanted to continue that momentum this year, with guys getting bigger and stronger, older and more experienced. We’re getting back to what we’re about lately and trying to improve in certain areas.”

The Colonials have a bye week to recharge and reflect before travelling to face AHC rival Rochester Institute of Technology on Feb. 20-21. After playing three consecutive series in three different cities against Atlantic Hockey contenders Holy Cross, Air Force and Canisius, the players are savoring this conveniently-placed gap in the schedule.

“This bye is pretty big for us,” said sophomore defenseman Rob Mann. “We had two tough weekends on the road, a lot of travel, and then a battle against Canisius…it was a hard six-game stretch. This week we can do what we need to do to feel good going into the following week.”

For Mann, who played in 10 games as a freshman last year, this season has been a challenging introduction to full-time duty.

But in reality, it’s been a new experience for the entire team, as the combination of being the defending champion and in first place all year has given every game a high level of urgency.

“All the games have been just as intense as last year, but it’s been kind of a role reversal,” Mann said. “Last year we were the team chasing and now we’re trying to defend the lead. Everyone’s gunning for us and we’re seeing their best hockey.”

The Colonials have four games remaining in the regular season, but they could clinch the AHC regular-season title while idle this weekend if out-of-town results go their way.

Just as importantly, they’ve already locked up a first-round playoff bye for the first time ever. Also, one more win would establish a new program high for a single season.

Making history has become routine lately, which raises the standard for success in the future.

“The guys are loving it,” Mann said. “We’re stepping up to the challenge.”

More from City of Champions