What the Robert Morris University men’s hockey team has accomplished over the past 15 months is impossible to ignore – and that goes for coaches as well as players.

Less than 24 hours before his Colonials are scheduled to play in the Atlantic Hockey Conference final four for the second consecutive year, Derek Schooley was named the league’s Coach of the Year on Thursday evening at Blue Cross Arena. Conference coaches voted on the prize, which was revealed at the AHC’s annual tournament reception.

Schooley, in his 11th season as the Robert Morris bench boss, followed up last year’s AHC postseason title by guiding the 20th-ranked Colonials to their finest regular-season ever. RMU went 22-7-5, including a 19-5-4 mark in conference play that was tied for the best in Atlantic Hockey over the past five seasons.

Since Jan. 1, 2014, Robert Morris is 41-13-8, good for the third-best winning percentage (.726) in all of Division I hockey during that span. After a two-game AHC quarterfinal sweep of Niagara last weekend at 84 Lumber Arena, the Colonials are a pair of wins away from their second straight playoff crown and NCAA tournament berth.

“We are extremely proud of what Derek has accomplished here at RMU, not just during this magical season, but also since the inception of our program,” said RMU athletic director Craig Coleman, who teamed with Schooley to sign a four-year contract extension last summer, keeping the St. Louis native in Pittsburgh through the 2019-20 season.

“He is a smart coach, a class act, and does things the right way. This is a well-deserved award.”

Upon learning of the honor, the first of his career, Schooley made sure to thank the players and fellow members of his staff: associate head coaches Mark Workman and Matt Nicholson, along with director of hockey operations Kody Van Rentergem.

“This award isn’t about one person,” Schooley said. “It is a team award. The players have made our staff better coaches and deserve all the credit. I would like to thank my staff for a tremendous job they have have done in recruiting and coaching this unbelieveable group of student-athletes. We would not be there without the hard work and dedication they have put into Colonial Hockey.”

A former assistant coach at Cornell and Air Force, Schooley was hired in 2003 to start RMU’s fledgling Division I program, which first took the ice in 2004-05. The Colonials played their first six seasons in College Hockey America before making the jump to Atlantic Hockey in 2010-11.

Since joining the AHC, Robert Morris has finished at .500 or above every season. The Colonials won 20 games in 2012-13 and contended for an NCAA at-large bid, then last year’s squad finished on a torrid 17-6-3 run to capture the program’s first conference championship of any kind. RMU made its NCAA tournament debut with a tenacious loss to top-seeded Minnesota in the regional semifinal round.

This season, the program’s upward trajectory has continued, as the Colonials led the AHC from start to finish. Entering this weekend, the Colonials have been ranked in eight consecutive United States College Hockey Online polls, climbing as high as 17th.

Schooley’s all-time record at RMU is 167-181-50, highlighted by a 98-68-24 mark over the past five seasons. The Colonials are 114-102-38 against in-conference competition; they’ve finished in the top half of Atlantic Hockey every season since joining the league.

A former defenseman at Western Michigan University, Schooley resides in Moon Township with his wife Alicia and their three children. He’ll be behind the bench at Blue Cross Arena on Friday evening as his Colonials challenge Mercyhurst for the right to advance to Saturday’s AHC championship game.

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