Colonials hockey to start season against Air Force

Josh Yost, Assistant Sports Editor

84 Lumber Arena was booming with the sound of pucks ricocheting off the end boards as players in red, black and yellow jerseys rounded the ice for practice. The Robert Morris men’s hockey team will be taking the ice this weekend to open their season, and preparation has been rigorous.

Robert Morris was voted in the Atlantic Hockey Coaches Poll and Media Poll to win the league over RIT. They’ve been receiving votes from USA Today and Senior forward Zac Lynch was named a pre-season all-star for Atlantic Hockey, and Dalton Izyk was named to the Mike Richter Award watch list. With expectations high, here are a few story-lines to watch heading into the season.


Platooning the Goaltenders

Last season, the Colonials ran with a two-goalie system in an attempt to utilize both Dalton Izyk and Terry Shafer. Izyk, a junior this year, finished with a 15-5-0 record to go with a .923 save percentage. Shafer, now a senior, had a 9-3-4 record, but a higher .930 save percentage and a lower 2.15 goals against average. Andrew Pikul, a sophomore, is also in the mix, but is inexperienced by comparison with only one game played in his career.

“I mean all you can do is show up to practice every day and play hard and stay ready,” said Shafer. “You know, obviously we have three really good goalies on the roster. We’re lucky to have that. There’s a lot of good goalies in this league, so mentally you just have to go to the rink every day and put your best foot forward, do the best you can.”

On Sunday, the Colonials had an exhibition game against Guelph. To help clear up the goaltender situation, the coaching staff ran a different goalie for each period. Shafer started the game, giving up two goals. Izyk stepped in for the second and gave up a single goal on a breakaway following a bad giveaway at the blue line in the offensive zone. Pikul managed to step up in the third and shut out Guelph to earn the win.

“Honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to be doing this year,” said Izyk. “We have three good goaltenders here, we all push it as hard as we can. So I mean, our coaching staff, it’s all up to them. Our job is to make it hard for them, I guess. And I think we’ve done a good job thus far, Andrew Pikul with a shutout. We’ve all made unbelievable saves I think. I think we’re all very capable of playing and winning for this team.”

Returning the Defense

A big reason why the Colonials have been ranked so highly in polls throughout the preseason is their returning players. Despite the heavy impact of losing star scorers Cody Wydo and Scott Jacklin, which we’ll get to later, they return nine seniors to this squad. On defense, they have eight returning players. Starting the season, the plan is to keep the pairings the same and let the players chemistry return from last season.

“We’ll see where we go,” said head coach Derek Schooley. “We’ve got some guys, we’ve got 6 guys returning that have played a lot of hockey games. But we’ve also got 3 guys that are pushing for opportunities. We ended up last year with Tyson Wilson playing with Chase Golightly, and they were both our team’s most valuable defensemen or defensive player of the year. Then you’ve got a shutdown pair in Evan Moore and Robb Mann, and now we have Alex Bontje, who had a very good freshman year, play with John Rey.”

With so many games together under their belt, the defensemen themselves feel more comfortable. Chase Golightly spoke about his ability to know where Tyson Wilson was on the ice in split-second decisions. Evan Moore talked about the ability to contribute more with a high comfort level.

“It’s nice to have a big group of guys back there,” said Moore. “We have 6 returning guys that have all played a lot of games. We’ve all been in big situations, we’ve won before. We’ve lost together. We’ve been in slumps. We’re a tight group, we help each other out all the time. We’re comfortable back there. We’re going to do our best this year to shut teams down, get the puck out as soon as we can and contribute on the offense as well.”

Replacement by Committee

Having lost two of their top three scorers from last season, the Colonials look primed to take a step back offensively. Wydo contributed 43 points last season himself, including 20 goals, while Jacklin added 33 points with 14 goals. Despite the loss, the senior Lynch, himself a 100-point scorer in his career for the Colonials, believes it’s a great opportunity for the team to come together and fill the void.

“Obviously we have a lot of guys that can step up and fill those roles,” said Lynch. “Losing Wydo and Jacklin is tough to fill obviously, but we know we have guys who can step up in those spots. It’ll be interesting to see who does it, but we know we have guys who can do it.”

Coach Schooley spoke about his expectations for filling the role, trying to get everybody to simply take their game up another notch instead of asking one player to become the star. He specifically drew his eye toward sophomores on the team like Brady Ferguson, who had a big season with 26 points in his freshman year, to make a jump to a 30 point season.

“You’re not going to replace 70-plus points with freshmen,” said Schooley. “But how you do it is you replace it with those freshmen contributing, and then your older guys are going to have to take a step, and you’re going to have to play games in different ways. Whether it’s defensively, be better defensively. Or just get more contributions from other people in different scenarios. You look at the sophomores, opportunities to step up. Brady Ferguson, hopefully, will have a better year this year. Timmy Moore contribute a little more.”

Among those looked at to step up in the upper classmen is David Friedmann, who spent the previous season playing on the wing and is expected to jump to center this season after playing that position his first two years. He’s expected to be on a line with Ferguson and Daniel Leavens.

“That’s something that I looked at this summer, is working on a lot of things that I knew I could work on,” said Friedmann. “Knowing the fact that it was going to be my time to start scoring more, and do more offensively than in previous seasons.”

Looking toward Conference Play

“Having the league start off, especially against Air Force, who’s always been top of the charts and good coaching and hard working,” said Izyk. “That’ll be a challenge for us, but with our returning players, and good assistants and coaching, I think we’ll be okay this weekend.”

The Colonials start their season with a conference match-up against Air Force on Friday night, Oct. 16. With a few players injured, they expect this to be a difficult contest.

“Typical Air Force game, it’s always a battle against them,” said Lynch. “They’re a well-coached team. They’re an Air Force team, they work hard. No matter who’s on the team, it’s always going to be a good game.”