Robert Morris has been the ideal of consistency since joining Atlantic Hockey in 2010-11. After no winning seasons in the now-defunct College Hockey America, the Colonials worst record in seven seasons of play in the AHA has been 17-17-5. However, for as consistent as the Colonials have been in the regular season, including back to back regular season titles in 2014-16, they have made the NCAA tournament just once in 2013-14.
Derek Schooley, the only coach in program history, will return for his 14th season at the helm looking to match regular season success with postseason satisfaction. The Colonials will once again be a top pick to finish in the top four of the league and will be searching to find a way to win in the single elimination portion of the league playoffs. With many important pieces back for the Colonials and question marks ahead of them in the standings this may just be the year for Schooley and company to make it back to the big tournament.
Last season saw Robert Morris produce offense better than any team in the league, 3.30 goals per game, and that roster featured 3 of the top 21 point totals in the entire country. Two of those top point producers are back this season and in fact Robert Morris returns 80% of their goals scored from last season. Brady Ferguson and Alex Tonge each scored 20 or more goals last season and both are back for another season with the Colonials. Ferguson spent this summer in development camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins and he will be playing for a pro opportunity after his senior season, so expect big things from him again.
As far as possession metrics go Robert Morris was 3rd in the league in terms of Corsi For (51.2%) and improved in close games to 52.7%. The Colonials had an odd league schedule in 2016-17 that saw them face the top three teams in the league six times total in the regular season ( a series against each) before then facing Canisius and Air Force back-to-back in the league tournament with a 2-1 loss to Air Force in the Atlantic Hockey Championship game ending their season. Last season saw Air Force play themselves close to the NCAA bubble by beating solid teams out of conference and taking care of business in league play. Robert Morris does not have the out of conference schedule prestige to rack up big pairwise points so they must perform better against top teams in conference play and improve the offensive output against these teams to win and win handily if they want to try and get to the NCAA bubble. Last season in eight games against the 1-3 teams in the league Robert Morris had two or fewer goals in six of the eight contests. RMU needs offense in it’s biggest games to push them over the hump this season.
Robert Morris will return almost their entire blue line from last season, including their top performer. Eric Israel, a sophomore from Huntington Woods, MI, was a breakout star for the Colonials last season registering a 8-22-30 scoring line in 38 games played. This season was rewarded in the summer as Israel represented the United States at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, a tournament where rosters are comprised of players of Jewish faith or descent. Israel was by far the leading point producer on the defense corps as the next closest Colonial was senior Rob Mann who had just 11 points. Israel was a consistent threat on the power play as he added six of his eight goals on the man advantage. However, since this post is about what RMu needs to do to reach the next level, they need to find more offense from their defense, especially in games against the top of the league.
In net freshman Francis Marotte is back for his sophomore season after a great freshman campaign. Marotte posted a 2.08 goals against average, a .931 save percentage and greatly outperformed the upperclassmen on the roster to take hold of the starting job. The Colonials did lose to Dalton Izyk to graduation after last season, however Marotte will quell any concern as he is possibly the top returner in net in the entire league with key losses to both Air Force and Canisius.
Player to Watch- This has to be Brady Ferguson here. He has improved his goal and point total each of his first three seasons in college hockey and has a lot to play for this season. He is playing for team success as well as a pro contract as a 23 year old intriguing prospect. The returning league scoring champion is someone any hockey fan should watch when given the opportunity.
Breakout Player to Watch- It seems odd to call Francis Marotte a breakout player but I think he can do that this season. In a league that featured Charles Williams at Canisius, Parker Gahagen at Army and Shane Starrett at Air Force Marotte was often overshadowed in 2016-17, despite an excellent campaign. Marotte was the goaltender that made the All-Freshman team and that was it with so many talented goaltenders ahead of him. We are on the record here at ELC this season saying Marotte will be the Goaltender of the Year in league play and that will be crucial to Robert Morris this season.
Freshman to Watch- It is a small class coming to Robert Morris this season, as they graduated just four players last season. Nick Prkusic is the most intriguing prospect as he comes to the Colonials after three seasons with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL. The Bandits were a stacked team in the AJHL featuring 4th overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft (and UMass commit) Cale Makar. Prkusic was 6th on the team in points with a 26-32-58 line in just 42 games played. While there will certainly be an adjustment to college hockey for Prkusic I think he is the best freshman candidate to see big minutes for the Colonials.