OPINION: The decision to axe RMU hockey programs should have never been a thought

Jon+Hanna+gives+his+two+cents+on+why+the+hockey+programs+should+have+never+been+abolished.+Photo+Credit%3A+Nathan+Breisinger

Jon Hanna gives his two cents on why the hockey programs should have never been abolished. Photo Credit: Nathan Breisinger

By Jonathan Hanna, Editor-in-Chief

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Opinions are of the writer and not of Colonial Sports Network as a whole.*

In a move that surprised the college hockey world, including the athletes of the teams themselves, Robert Morris University announced in a press release that it was immediately eliminating the Division I men’s and women’s hockey teams as part of “a series of strategic initiatives.”

The release stated: “RMU is focusing its resources and efforts on strategic initiatives best suited to position the university for future growth.”

If that was the case, then this move makes even less sense, as the men’s and women’s hockey teams made RMU unique amongst Pittsburgh universities. The Colonials recently hosted the 2021 Frozen Four and the Colonials were named the official higher education partners of the Pittsburgh Penguins. To be frank, the RMU basketball teams and football teams will always play third fiddle to the larger and more popular PITT and Duquesne programs.

Then again, the Colonials hockey programs have always been left out of the equation. The university recently built the $50 million UPMC Events Center, which houses the school’s basketball teams and women’s volleyball team, but the hockey teams still play at Clearview Arena on Neville Island, an arena, for all intents and purposes, that is not up to Division I quality.

Realistically, there are four teams at Robert Morris University that could win an NCAA national championship, men’s hockey, women’s hockey, men’s lacrosse, and women’s lacrosse. Cutting the chances of national success even more isn’t going to change the fact that right now, the best thing the RMU men’s basketball team is known for is defeating an injured Kentucky team in the NIT Tournament eight years ago.

All of this doesn’t take into account the on-ice success that the Colonials have had. Last season, the women’s hockey team made its second-ever NCAA Tournament, where they were defeated in the quarterfinals at the hands of Northeastern 5-1. On the men’s side, after a COVID-affected year, the Colonials won the Atlantic Hockey western pod.

Over the past five seasons, the hockey teams at Robert Morris have gone a combined 181-129-35. They have won three CHA regular-season titles, one Atlantic Hockey regular-season title, two CHA Tournament titles, and have made it to eight of nine possible conference championship games. Also in this timespan, the Colonials have defeated five ranked opponents, including the women’s team beating fifth-ranked Ohio State in 2017.

After college, RMU hockey players have found success as well. Kirsten Welsh became one of four women to officiate at the NHL level for the first time; Brianne McLaughlin won a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics with Team USA; Jaycee Gebhard drafted sixth overall by the Toronto Six in the 2020 NWHL Entry Draft; Brady Ferguson recently made the Swedish Hockey League finals with Rögle BK mark just a few.

Not a single coach or player was told of the university’s plan to axe the programs, per Mike McMahon of College Hockey News. McMahon also stated that as of yesterday, coaches were reportedly reaching out to the Colonials program to schedule dates for the upcoming season

The university announced it would honor the scholarships of any of the 55 athletes who decide to stay at Robert Morris, however those who wish to transfer face a difficult task ahead of them. Due to COVID-19 related transfers, the NCAA transfer portal is backed up already, as reported by Marisa Ingemi, providing a slim chance the majority of RMU players are playing Division I hockey next season.

The university also announced that seven staff positions for the two teams would be impacted by this decision, including the two bench bosses in Derek Schooley and Paul Colontino.

For a program that was described by Athletic Director Chris King and Senior Associate Athletic Director Marty Galosi as “Pittsburgh’s College Hockey Team”, it is an unfortunate end to what could have been a great future, highlighted by hosting a Frozen Four.

A petition to save Robert Morris hockey can be found here.