With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Robert Morris Colonials are primed and ready for a deep run through the Atlantic Hockey Association’s (AHA) postseason tournament, and potentially the NCAA Tournament as well.
Sitting at 18-8-4 overall and 15-5-4 in AHA play following a weekend split against the Army West Point Black Knights, the Colonials maintain a three-point lead in the conference standings with a showdown with the second-place Air Force Falcons looming this upcoming weekend.
A sweep over the Falcons would clinch the second consecutive regular-season title for the club and home ice throughout the postseason tournament, which would give the Colonials their second NCAA Tournament berth in three years if they happen to walk away with the AHA’s postseason crown.
The Colonials have a lot going for them coming down the stretch, including a group of nine seniors that have amassed 81 total victories over four years, a program record. That group includes Zac Lynch (20 goals, 22 assists, 42 total points) and Greg Gibson (22 goals, 18 assists, 40 total points), two of the team’s three nominees for the Hobey Baker Award, NCAA Hockey’s top individual honor. Brandon Denham is the third. Lynch and Gibson rank fourth and seventh, respectively in all of division one hockey, and can change the pace of a game in one shift.
The Colonials also own an incredible advantage when it comes to specials teams, with a big part of it coming from players like Lynch, Gibson, and Denham. The team’s 37 powerplay goals leads the nation, while the penalty kill converts at 82.9% and has racked up seven shorthanded goals, six of which Lynch has scored. Keep in mind, this is a team that has wins over #6 Michigan (4-0), # 11 Umass-Lowell (5-3, in the Three Rivers Championship), and #16 Penn State (6-4), proving that the Colonials can stack up against some of the nation’s elite programs. The Colonials have history to be weary of, though. Last year, the Colonials wrapped up the regular-season 22-7-5, including a 19-5-4 conference mark, only to fall in the semifinals to Mercyhurst. Last year’s club lost two of its last four regular-season contests, and really lost the spark and consistency that brought them the success they had up to that point. This year’s team is coming off of a disappointing loss to Army West Point, and though they regrouped for a 3-0 victory the next day to split the series, the Colonials should call upon that history to know that they need to be on top of their game if they want to win the conference.
This team also has a slight dilemma in net as well. After losing junior Dalton Izyk to a season-ending injury (5-1-1 record, .890 sv pct., 3.45 GAA) it’s realistically down to senior goaltender Terry Shafer (13-7-2, .936 sv pct., 2.24 GAA) to carry the load from here on out.
Is he more than capable? Yes. Shafer has been more than brilliant since taking over full-time in net. The concern going forward is whether or not he can stay fresh himself playing two games in two days each weekend after a two-goalie system has been set in place for the last several years.
The pressure also mounts on the team due to the fact that they must win their conference tournament in order to make it to the NCAA Tournament. The Colonials currently rank #25 in the Pairwise rankings according to USCHO.com. Only 16 teams make the field for the tournament, and a portion of those bids go to other conference winners. Looking at the rankings realistically, the Colonials fall too far off to be considered a bubble team for at-large consideration.
That being said, this team has the talent, the experience, and the coaching to make the most of the opportunity to establish itself as a premier program in college hockey. They play in a conference that is not regarded as one of the tougher ones in the nation, they’ve played excellent non-conference teams and won, and have even continued to dominate their conference when each weekend they face a team that looks at them as the team to beat. If Robert Morris can get back into the NCAA Tournament, they will not only have knocked on opportunity’s door, they’ll have blown that door down.