RMU set to face No. 1 seed Minnesota

RMU set to face No. 1 seed Minnesota

Photo by Amy Shubilla

At 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, the barroom of the University Boulevard Primanti Brothers was filled with the RMU men’s hockey team as well as their supporters.

Although many already had a hunch as to who the team’s opponent in the NCAA Tournament would be, the air was thick with anticipation. With the channel set to ESPNU, the players gathered around the screen for the moment of truth.

Minutes later, it was announced that the Colonials would make the trip to the Gopher State to take on No. 1 seed Minnesota in St. Paul.

“I don’t know what more we can ask for than to head up to St. Paul and have a shot at the Gophers in front of 20,000 people,” said Colin South.  “I don’t think life gets much better than that especially as a hockey player.”

The game won’t be an easy one.

RMU is entering unexplored terrain, while the Big Ten Conference giant is no stranger. The Gophers boast five NCAA championships, the most recent being two back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.

Led by head coach Don Lucia, the team has made eight appearances in a matter of nine years. In five of those appearances, the Gophers were seeded number one.

But the Colonials have become accustomed to assuming the role of the underdog. And it’s a role they play well, as demonstrated by this past weekend.

“Our backs have been against the wall for two months now.  We’re pretty used to it,” explained South.  “I think that it might work to our advantage.”

To stand a chance, RMU will have to focus up and play a complete game. This means maintaining the leads they establish and avoiding sloppy play.

“We’re going to have be smart, we’re going to have to manage the puck, we’re going to have to make sure we do things the right way,” noted head coach Derek Schooley. “If we do that then we’ll give ourselves an opportunity just like when we do at every game.”

“If we don’t do those things we’re going to struggle, if we do those things we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity and that’s all you look for in hockey.”

Another factor in the game will be Minnesota netminder Adam Wilcox. The sophomore Hobey Baker finalist currently holds the number two spot in the nation in terms of save percentage with .933.  Although RMU has offensive power in nationally ranked scorers Cody Wydo and Zac Lynch amongst others, it will take quite a bit to crack Wilcox.

The Colonials are scratching deeper and deeper into the surface of national recognition and regardless of the obstacles presented, this is an excellent opportunity for the program.

“It’s a great challenge,” said Schooley. “Minnesota has a storied hockey tradition. They’ve got a great fan base, great following, and obviously it’ll be an unbelievable environment for our student athletes. I think it’ll be something that our guys will remember forever.”

After the great reveal at Primanti’s, a few players managed to sneak out with the Atlantic Hockey trophy in hand. They scurried past Schooley, who gave some good-humored sharp glances and words, with the promise that it would be returned spot-free.

This team needs to and will finish off the weekend riding high on what they’ve already accomplished before turning their attention to next weekend.

The Colonials will face off against the Gophers for the first time this Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.  Puck drop is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on ESPN 2.