Schooley: “Now we are back and prepared to play” — Previewing the 2020-21 men’s hockey season


RMU’s Aidan Spellacy and AIC’s Tobias Fladeby line up for a faceoff on January 25, 2020 Photo credit: Garret Roberts

Nathan Breisinger

With the world coming to a halt back in March, the Robert Morris men’s ice hockey team, along with the rest of the Atlantic Hockey Association had to forfeit their quest at an AHA championship.

The Colonials had come off of a 2-1 series victory over Holy Cross in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs and were getting ready to face off against Sacred Heart before COVID-19 struck.

As the team puts last season in the rearview mirror, there is a glimmer of hope as the Colonials are set to begin their season slate this weekend with Alabama-Huntsville coming to town.

After a long hiatus between games, head coach Derek Schooley is ready for his group to return to the ice.

“I really like our hockey team and I like what they have brought to the table this year so far,” Schooley said. “It’ll be 258 days from our previous game, so we will be excited to play.”

This past week the Colonials announced their captains, as Nick Prkusic and Nick Jenny will serve as co-captains, while Brendon Michaelian and Aidan Spellacy will serve as alternate captains.

“We’ve got a very good leadership group… and they have all done outstanding jobs making sure we are following our goals, standards, and priorities of our program,” Schooley said of the group.

With the leadership group announced, the Colonials look to infuse some of their newcomers into the team. During the offseason, the Colonials welcomed nine new players to the team, including eight new freshmen.

The offense added Gavin Gulash, Randy Hernandez, Matthew Guerra, Kyler Head, and Matt Hutton as well as junior transfer Jordan Timmons. Robert Morris built onto its defensive core with the additions of David Lafrance and Brian Kramer. Goaltender Noah West completes the incoming group.

These new additions, specifically the freshman will look to be a critical part of this team’s success this season.

“We’ve got five forwards upfront that brings a lot of skill to the program,” Schooley said. “On the backend, Brian Kramer, who we think has the ability to be really good and David Lafrance got a tremendous amount of upside. Noah West in goal is here to battle for the job and the number one position.”

One particular player from this incoming class has caught the eyes of many thus far and that is Randy Hernandez. Hernandez joins the Colonials following a season where he registered 95 points, along with 42 goals in 57 games with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL.

“He’s going to be a guy that should play top-six minutes as he’s got unbelievable speed and he’s produced a lot of points,” Schooley said. “Randy’s game [has] got to mature a little bit from his habits and what he does, but he’s taken steps in the right direction. He’s going to be given opportunities so he’s got to take advantage of it.”

Schooley stated that Hernandez will begin the season on a line with Prkusic that is centered by Santeri Hartikainen. Although this line looks to be set for the season, the Colonials will see a mixture of different lines.

“Right out of the gate you are going to see a lot of different line combinations and a lot of different people in the lineup, you got to make sure you go with people who are cleared,” Schooley stated.

Heading into this season, the Colonials will be facing a goalie controversy with the departure of senior Justin Kapelmaster. Senior Dyllan Lubbesmeyer and junior Reid Cooper will be the primary contenders for the starting position, however, the team does not have a certified starter.

“We have not made a decision yet on where our goaltending has been going… there’s been nobody that’s gone out and you can say he’s the number one, but they’ll have opportunities in the game,” Schooley said.

As the team has waited for the official puck drop of the season, they have been preparing for the season through different practices during these challenging times, even facing some setbacks.

“I think we’ve had some really good practices and we had two months of practices where we had the opportunity to do a lot of good things and keep our guys engaged,” Schooley said. “We had some intrasquad scrimmages and quite honestly we were trending in the right direction, then it was announced that we went on a two-week pause, but now we are back and prepared to play.”

One aspect of the game that the Colonials worked on was their power play. Last season RMU scored 22 goals on the power play as they only converted 13.8% of the time, which placed them third to last in the conference in that category.

“We’ve got to get the fluid nature of our power play going. We have to get into the right spots and the right reads, and that comes with time, which unfortunately we don’t have that kind of time to go right now, but it’s something we will continue to work on,” Schooley said.

Another facet of the Colonials game that struggled last season was their offensive production. The team scored a mere 2.27 goals per game, which placed them last in that department in the AHA.

“You got players that have to capitalize around the net and we’ve got a lot of guys that have scored in the past that did not score last year,” Schooley said. “It’s everybody stepping up to their potential because these are goal scorers and good hockey players that have not continued to do that from year to year.”

With the season nearing, Robert Morris looks to sustain the season-ending success they had last year.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our group and we have a lot of depth,” Schooley said. “A lot depends on how good our goaltending is, a lot depends on how quick our freshman get into college hockey.”

The Colonials look to improve their record from last season in which they went 11-12-5-3 in conference play and 13-19-5 overall.

“You can’t really predict where it’s going to go because it is such a shortened season and college hockey usually is a marathon, this year it’s going to be a sprint,” Schooley added.

Puck drop for the Colonials’ first game against the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers is at 7:05 pm on Saturday, November 21.

To watch the full interview with head coach Derek Schooley, click here.

To stay up to date on all things Robert Morris athletics, be sure to visit the CSN home page and follow @RMU_CSN on Twitter.