OPINION: 10 Observations from RMU hockey in 2021

Owen+Krepps+offers+his+observations+on+the+state+of+RMU+hockey.+Photo%28s%29+Credit%3A+Tyler+Gallo%2FNathan+Breisinger

Owen Krepps offers his observations on the state of RMU hockey. Photo(s) Credit: Tyler Gallo/Nathan Breisinger

By Owen Krepps, Podcast / Webshow Manager

Editors’ Note: Opinions are of the writer and not Colonial Sports Network as a whole.

It’s been about a week since RMU hockey has come to an end for the 2020-21 season. Women’s ice hockey was defeated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Northeastern, and the men’s team was upset in the first round of the AHA playoffs for the first time in six years.

Regardless, both teams have nothing to be ashamed of this season as both programs took the next step towards becoming a top hockey college. Men’s hockey started the season off 11-3 and reached the highest USCHO ranking in team history at no. 17. The women struggled in their regular season, only to come back when it mattered most and win the club’s third CHA title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

There are a lot of things that both teams can be proud of, and now that both seasons are officially over, let’s look back on both team’s seasons and make five observations for each club.

Men’s Hockey

1. Randy Hernández is the real deal

Entering the season for men’s hockey, all eyes were on freshman Randy Hernández. A Cuban-American winger, Hernández has a unique backstory being the son of two Cuban immigrants and playing hockey in the Miami area growing up. On top of this, he is an all-caliber speedy forward, who before coming to RMU, totaled 95 points in 57 games played in the AJHL with Brooks Bandits.

In his freshman season with RMU, Hernández was exactly what the team needed with scoring depth. He finished the season tied with Nick Prkusic for the team lead in points with 25 and led the team in goals with 11. He was named the AHA Rookie of the Year and was on the AHA’s All-Rookie Team and all AHA Second-Team. He is a good player, and vital to the future of this program.

The only area of concern that I have with Hernández is that he does not have a center to play with. Prkusic served mainly as Hernández’s center in 2021 but will be graduating. For the Colonials to succeed in the future they need someone that can feed Hernández the puck, which I am not sure if they have.

2. Depth is lacking at center

In what became the Colonials’ final game of the season, Santeri Hartikainen was listed as the team’s first-line center. Hartikainen is not only more comfortable at wing, he was also just inserted into the lineup that night as he was just coming off of injury. Especially with Prkusic leaving, the Colonials are going to be very weak at the center position come next season unless something changes.

Prkusic will be the only forward that RMU will lose to seniority going into next season, but that is not the problem. The problem is that there is not any depth at center in the first place. As much as players like Grant Hebert and Aidan Spellacy are hard-working players, they simply are not first-line centers on a good team.

It is easy for me to say that this team needs another player like Brady Ferguson, which of course, likely will not happen anytime soon. The bottom line is, the Colonials need a top-line center to play with Hernández and the other strong wingers this team has like Jordan Timmons and Justin Addamo. Right now they have a lot of mediocre players all working hard to get in the lineup every night, which is fine. But none of these players, in my opinion, have the talent needed to be a team-leading center.

3. Many players on the roster are interchangeable

As I just mentioned, there are many players on this roster that can serve in many different roles. That is simply just how college hockey works. You rarely have just a right-winger, you have a forward. Someone that can do everything, such as win faceoffs, kill penalties, be on the power-play, and play all three forward positions.

But the more and more this becomes normality, the more it can hurt the team. The more roster shakeups you have experimenting with different players, the less likely players are going to feel comfortable playing in certain positions. There is not much separating most of the players on the roster from becoming a healthy scratch. Case in point is someone like Darcy Walsh, who was repeatedly a healthy scratch throughout the season but also scored the OT winner in game two against Niagara.

There are simply too many similar players on this team that are all just not talented enough. Injuries this past season caused head coach Derek Schooley to switch up his lines and play players in different roles. Hopefully, for this next season, there will be more stability with the lineup so that players can get more comfortable in certain positions.

4. Noah West is the future in net

One stable thing, however, is goaltender Noah West in the net for RMU going forward. Coming in as a freshman, West started in 16 of the 21 games for RMU this season and registered an impressive .915 save percentage. West picked up AHA Rookie of the Week, AHA Goalie of the Week, and AHA Goaltender of the Month honors throughout his first season.

Robert Morris has never truly had a goalie come in and take over the starter mantle for a full four years since Brooks Ostergard. For the majority of these past few seasons, RMU had relied on upperclassmen, transfers, or backup goaltenders to serve in net. West will look to become the next starter for RMU heading forward for his next three years.

5. Discipline is starting to become an issue

The game did not stop after the buzzer rang in game three against RMU and Niagara. Several players were involved in a scrum that saw both head coaches of the two teams come on the ice to try and play peacemaker. Colonials forward Justin Addamo was in the middle of everything and was not taking any prisoners.

This is a part of hockey, plain and simple. But discipline could start to become an issue for RMU heading forward if they do not screw it on straight. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen defenders on this team more focused on getting a big hit rather than focusing on the puck. RMU finished the season with 272 penalty minutes and averaged four penalties a game. I guess that is just the way the team will play when coached by the 1994 KOHA Grinder of the Year Derek Schooley.

Women’s Hockey

1. The program’s culture is successful

In no way am I discrediting the team on the ice, but I personally think the main reason why this team won the CHA title was because of the team culture. Ever since Brittany Howard’s emergence in 2013, RMU women’s hockey has slowly but surely become a beacon for women’s hockey growth in the Pittsburgh area. As a result, the culture of Colonial hockey has grown exponentially as well.

This continued in the 2021 season as the team came together to win the CHA title. When you step back and look at the roster and compare it to ones from seasons past, it looks weaker than others. Let’s face it, the 2018-19 team with Jaycee Gebhard, Maggie LaGue, Kirsten Welsh, Emily Curlett, Amber Rennie, and Lexi Templeman was dynamite, but they were embarrassed in the CHA final against Syracuse.

This season was different and there was no longer a rich pool of star players on the roster. It was up to players like Joelle Fiala, Maggy Burbidge, and Marah Wagner to provide that depth scoring. As a result, this team did not even receive a first-round bye in the playoffs and struggled in the regular season at times, but the team still got it done, and they did it as a team. Everyone chipped in from Templeman to Molly Singewald. This is something the team should be proud of.

2. Not winning the CHA regular-season title was a good thing

After winning the CHA regular-season title in 2017, 2018, and 2019, the Colonials failed to do so in both 2020 and 2021. For the first time in five seasons, RMU did not receive a first-round bye in the CHA playoffs. Instead, they had to defeat the one-win RIT Tigers before advancing to the semi-finals against Mercyhurst.

This was a blessing in disguise for RMU as it allowed the team to get their footing underneath them and get into game shape. The Colonials went on to defeat Mercyhurst in overtime with a goal from Burbidge. Both Mercyhurst and Penn State, who received first-round byes, were eliminated in their first games in the playoffs to teams that had already played in RMU and Syracuse.

3. Ellie Marcovsky could be their next star player

As mentioned before, one of the keys to the Colonials’ success this year was because of the depth they had at forward with their young players. The most notable of these was with freshman Ellie Marcovsky. For the majority of the season, she served as the top-line right-winger alongside Templeman and Michaela Boyle.

Marcovsky tallied 18 points in 25 games, which is similar to the numbers that her captain Lexi Templeman scored in her freshman year (18). A Penguins Elite product, Marcovsky led the CHA playoffs in rookie scoring with three points including a clutch goal against Mercyhurst. I do not doubt that Marcovsky will continue to impress and turn into one of the leaders on this team going forward.

4. Emily Curlett is the greatest defender in team history

Speaking of leaders, Emily Curlett is the definition of one. In her senior season, Curlett totaled six goals and 15 points and is only one point shy from passing Maggie LaGue’s career record for points by a defender with 92. Her 43 goals rank first all-time in goals from a defender as well.

This season solidified Curlett’s legacy as one of, if not, the greatest defenders in team history. Curlett scored the only goal for RMU in their first-round matchup against the Northeastern Huskies in the NCAA tournament. This goal was also the first goal scored in the NCAA tournament by Robert Morris.

Curlett’s speed and offensive instincts, along with her shot, provide a coach with everything they would ever need from an offensive defender. It is obvious when she is on the ice. It is unknown if Curlett will return for another season at RMU, which she could, as all seniors on the current roster have another year left of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to lingering effects of the pandemic. Whatever path she chooses to take, there is no doubt in my mind that we witnessed the greatest defender in team history play these past four seasons.

5. The goaltending depth is insane

Speaking of greatness, try having all three of your goaltenders register a shutout all in one season. The dynamic between the three-headed monster that is the RMU women’s hockey team’s goaltenders is something to marvel at. Head coach Paul Colontino played all three of his goaltenders, Molly Singewald, Raygan Kirk, and Arielle DeSmet in each game of the CHA playoffs, and every one of them got a win.

Singewald entered this season as the third-string goalie, never having a start in net as a senior. She now has three career shutouts in four starts. Kirk and DeSmet continued their success last year in a 1-A, 1-B dynamic which saw them finish at a .939 and .926 save percentage, respectively.

BONUS: Both: Not having fans really sucked

All in all, if there is one takeaway that I have from watching both these teams play this season is that I am upset that I was one of the only people that could do so. I wish more people were able to come and see two of the best seasons in both of these team’s history.

COVID continues to take, but we just have to adapt. From all of us here at CSN we are happy to have been able to cover these teams for another season and look forward to doing it again hopefully with more faces in the crowd going forward.