Tim Benz: Robert Morris hockey has been reinstated. Now it needs to be rebuilt

For Robert Morris University men’s hockey coach Derek Schooley, the past seven months have been dedicated to reviving the school’s hockey programs.

The next two years will be dedicated to rebuilding them.

In May, the RMU administration cut the men’s and women’s hockey teams from the athletics department. Thanks to seven months of fundraising, outcry from alumni, legal pressure and media scrutiny, the school decided to reinstate the teams two weeks ago.

But they will only resume play in 2023-24. That means building list with a long lens.

“The first thing is that you’re looking for players who are available to go to school in two years,” Schooley said Monday. “The transfer portal is far too early to see and predict where and who will make those decisions in two years.… The transfer portal will really increase when it comes to this time next year.”

Schooley knows he’ll have to rely on transfers a lot, though he can ‘t guess who they’ll be right now.

“We’ll need some older kids. Definitely,” Schooley said. “We’ll have to go out and get a few older players. Some veteran presence. You want some people who’ve been through the fights and wars of college hockey.”

In theory, players could switch to Robert Morris at the end of this season. But then they just wanted to practice, train and participate in the teaching until the team hits the ice again in the fall of 2023.

But with the NCAA’s new one-time free transfer rule, any player can come to RMU by the end of the 2022-23 season and be immediately eligible for 2023-24. Since the program was cut, any player who left the Colonials to skate elsewhere could return to RMU in two years without penalty.

In fact, several players who have spoken to TribLIVE over the last seven months told us that their new coaches said that if the RMU programs were reinstated before the start of this season, they would allow those players to return to Moon, given the strange circumstances.

Coincidentally, on the day Robert Morris’ officials held their press conference at the Island Sports Center to announce the return of Colonial hockey, American International College coach Eric Lang was in the building watching his son play in a tournament. As RMU hockey folded, Lang landed two Colonials transfers, striker Santeri Hartikainen and defender Brian Kramer.

“When we first recruited them, I said, ‘If Robert Morris got their program back, I would always give you the opportunity to return to the place that recruited you.’ I would always honor that for them, “said Lang.” Because they had to make a decision based on necessity, not based on what they want or do not want. ”

What makes this offer even more remarkable is that AIC is an Atlantic Hockey rival by Robert Morris. The Yellow Jackets won the Atlantic Hockey Tournament in 2019 and 2021. They won the 2020 crown in the regular season before the pandemic closed the tournament.

“It shows (a lot) about his character,” Kramer said of Lang. “He’s a really sweet guy when it comes to that. Loyalty. It was really a cool gesture by him.”

This feeling about Lang was repeated by Schooley, who praised the bond they shared as conference combatants going back to Lang’s days as an assistant to the Army.

“High hockey is a special group. A special group of people,” Schooley said. “Everyone is together. I think you saw it from not only the support (for RMU) in the Pittsburgh hockey community, but also from college hockey nationwide. It’s a bond. It is a brotherhood. ”

For a player like Kramer, a Wexford product who is just starting his second season, in theory, he would have eligibility left if he wanted to switch home. But he said he is happy with the yellow jackets and may find it difficult to return to Robert Morris anyway because of how the programs were cut.

“As much as I loved playing there last year, there is still a sour taste in my mouth of how it was handled by the management at the school,” Kramer said. “But programmatically, I loved my time there.”

Aidan Spellacy is another story. After three years with the Colonials, he moved to St. Louis. Cloud State to play its senior season. He’s just happy to know that when he calls himself an alum in the Colonials program, it will still be a living creature.

“I spent three years at that school and played with and for a bunch of amazing people. So I definitely wanted RMU to have a program so I could say I was playing for that program. And have a place I called home for three years, “Spellacy said.

Schooley is reluctant – and technically not allowed – to talk about bringing back any former players who are currently with other teams. If they put their names in the transfer portal, it could be a different story. But it’s a conversation that players should initiate along the way.

There are still a handful of student-athletes staying on campus and not switching – players like Nick Lalonde, Geoff Lawson and Nolan Schaeffer. Many of them are upper-class men, close to graduation, who would look at sixth year and / or extended graduate programs to remain enrolled as hockey players.

Now that the decision has been made by the school to postpone a return to 2023-24, they may be encouraged to switch to next year or just finish their degrees without playing hockey again.

“It’s a lot for them to think about,” Schooley said. “They have to look at it long, hard. But if they want to come back, we really want them all back.”

As for the women’s team, they need a head coach before anything else. And staff. Schooley retains the title of Director of Hockey Operations at RMU – along with former player and U.S. Olympian Brianne McLaughlin – to recalibrate both programs. And he says the search for a women’s coach will begin after the first of the year.

This is not the first time Schooley has had to build a Colonials team from scratch. He is the only coach the men’s team has ever known. He was hired in September 2003, and the team only took to the ice 13 months later.

At the time, his list was a blank piece of paper. Ten years later, it was good enough to win an Atlantic Hockey Championship and go to the NCAA Tournament.

“600 days,” Schooley said of the wait before the next lineup card is printed.

For a coach who almost lost his program and needs to rebuild it again, it probably does not feel like time enough. Still, those days probably can not go fast enough.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reset. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise stated.

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