Nate’s Notebook: Examining the week that was for men’s hockey

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Credit: Danica Teodoro Photo credit: Danica Teodoro

By Nathan Breisinger, Social Media Director

After a long and exhausting offseason due to COVID-19, Robert Morris Athletics finally saw its first team return to action in just over eight months as men’s hockey played Alabama-Huntsville this past weekend.

It was a long-awaited moment for the Colonials and they made no mistake with their opportunity, as they swept the two-game set against the Chargers, improving to 2-0 to start a season for the first time since 2015-16.

With their 5-2 and 4-3 wins, respectively, the men’s hockey team received some recognition within their conference as well as nationally.

The Atlantic Hockey Association announced that Nick Prkusic received AHA Player of the Week honors for his four-point weekend that included a redirection goal in Sunday’s contest. Nick Jenny was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week as he added two points of his own in their two games. Freshman Kyler Head also received some love as he was awarded Rookie of the Week honors.

Nationally, the program received 32 votes in this week’s USCHO poll, which places them behind only St. Cloud State’s 52 for teams outside of the Top-20. The Colonials also were allotted eight votes in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men’s College Hockey Poll.

Although RMU has only played two games thus far, there were several takeaways from the start of their 2020-21 campaign.

Offense can produce

Following a disastrous year in terms of scoring, Robert Morris is off to a hot start in this category. The team averaged 2.27 goals per game last season, which put them last in that department in the conference.

The team erupted for a five-goal third period on Saturday, which illustrates this team’s ability to score. Once that first goal went in, the rest followed suit, including a pair of goals that were scored less than two minutes apart.

Sunday also showed the team’s capabilities to respond as they went back and forth with the Chargers, a game in which they got the last laugh with Randy Hernandez’s goal that made it 4-3.

Eight players scored a goal during the first weekend of play for the Colonials as 12 different skaters registered at least one point during the series. Last season, only one player scored double-digit goals and that was Luke Lynch, who had 11. This was the first time in program history that the Colonials only had one goal scorer reach the double-digit plateau.

With early signs of solid production, the men’s hockey team has the ability to find the back of the net as well as have several players who can score ten-plus goals.

Unselfish play in defensive zone continues

Last year, Robert Morris led Atlantic Hockey with 621 blocked shots, nearly 100 more than the next closest team Mercyhurst with 527. The Colonials saw four defensemen in the top six of blocked shots last season including current juniors Brendon Michaelian and Nolan Schaeffer.

Robert Morris blocked 27 total shots over the weekend. Michaelian put his body on the line to block seven shots through two games as Tyler Love also got in the way of four shots.

This unselfish defensive play allowed Dyllan Lubbesmeyer to only face 13 shots on Saturday, turning aside 11. On Sunday, Reid Cooper saw 21 total shots, making 18 saves.

This team has started the season the way they finished last year by playing tight defense and getting in the way of opposing shots.

Nick Jenny shows his value

Through the first two games, Nick Jenny has been quite visible and arguably the best Colonial on the ice. Even though he only recorded two points this past weekend, he still was a threat against the Chargers.

Jenny kicked off his season with Robert Morris’ second goal this past Saturday after a power-play. He found a soft-spot in the high slot where Santeri Hartikainen slid the puck to him for a catch and release shot as he beat Alabama-Huntsville goaltender George McBey on the blocker side.

This goal followed a man-advantage where Jenny generated two shots from the point, with one of them landing on net. Jenny will be a threat on the power-play all season with his shot-making ability from the quarterback position of their umbrella formation as well as the ability to distribute the puck.

On Sunday, the senior added an assist from the top of their power play formation when Hernandez crashed the net and scored his first collegiate goal.

Throughout the weekend, Jenny showed his offensive prowess by not only generating scoring chances with his eight shots on goal but joining the rush, which he demonstrated when he joined Aidan Spellacy for a 2-on-1 opportunity on Sunday in which Spellacy scored.

After two games, Jenny has a plus-five rating, which leads the Colonials. The co-captain’s value was on full display this weekend.

Freshman class has a bright future

The Colonials added eight freshmen this season, and they were impressive in the team’s opening weekend. Six of those eight newcomers saw action in the first two games.

Specifically, Randy Hernandez, Gavin Gulash, and Kyler Head all were noticeable across the weekend.

Hernandez potted the first goal of his RMU career as he crashed the net and drove the puck home on Sunday for the eventual game-winner. Hernandez put his speed and sneaky ability to force turnovers on display, including a slick pickpocket of Drew Lennon with 9:50 to play in the first period of Sunday’s game that led to a glorious opportunity that rang off the post.

With his performance over the weekend, Hernandez will continue to see more top-six minutes as he found a lot of playing time next to Hartikainen and Prkusic on the top line.

Gulash was another important piece of this freshman core that stood out this weekend. On Saturday, Gulash recorded his first career point for Robert Morris when he won an offensive-zone draw giving it back to Nick Lalonde, who went on to rip one home.

Also during his Colonial debut, Gulash was 50% from the faceoff dot and provided a plus-two rating.

The third standout performer from the freshman group, Head, figured in on two during Saturday night’s contest. As previously mentioned, Head earned Rookie of the Week honors from Atlantic Hockey with his two-point performance over the weekend.

Head’s 6’4” frame will make him a factor as seen over the weekend with his long reach forcing turnovers and setting up teammates for scoring opportunities.

The three freshmen mentioned are only a few of the players who hit the ice and had an impact on the team. However, these three have already combined for four points over two games, whereas it took last year’s freshman class six games to hit that mark.

Jordan Timmons is the real deal

Last year the Colonials struggled to find offensive production, especially from players they have relied on before. Junior transfer Jordan Timmons has come into RMU and has quickly made a name for himself.

The UConn transfer and Bridgeville, PA native scored twice and added an assist in his Colonials debut. Over his past two seasons, the forward only registered two points in 36 games of work for the Huskies. He quickly put his past two years behind him and went to work with his fresh new start.

Timmons buried a puck that sat on the goal line to get the Colonials rolling in the third period of Saturday’s game. He then added his second tally on a slight breakaway where he made a brilliant backhand-forehand move to beat the Chargers goalie.

Timmons is a very versatile player as he has the speed to burn past defenders and create shots as he put 10 pucks on net this weekend, shot-blocking ability, which led to his second goal, and the ability to throw the body.

If Timmons brings consistency to his play throughout the year, he can be a dangerous factor for this team.