Opinion: College Hockey is a positive image driver-We wish RMU’s leaders understood that

Photo Credit: Justin Berl-RMU Athletics

What do we want this sport to be?

While we are not privy to the internal discussions the upper echelon of Robert Morris University management had about indiscriminately putting the future of everyone involved with two successful hockey programs up in a state of purgatory through immediate cessation of them, we hope to learn more in the coming days about those discussions. When multiple players speak of the university doing no more than a 10 minute Zoom chat with no opportunity for transparency or questions of any sort, with a bout an hour of notice of this wretched announcement to be made ahead of time, we are left wanting more answers.

One thing that many other national writers have touched on is the cruel way this horrid, wretched, no good to do at any time announcement was done.

First off, if the administration of Chris Howard believed that Hockey was not in the long term plans for Robert Morris, they owed everyone involved with both programs more notice than the mere minutes some players were given before this went public. A legacy program of Atlantic Hockey, and a CHA program fresh off pushing the number one team in the country to the brink in the NCAA Tournament were thrown aside for goals of the university, that no one seems to get.

It seems rather callous to anyone with this program to read a banner ad on the side of this reductive, overly simplified press release to have an banner ad on the side showing the philosophy of the school. ” Big enough to matter, small enough to care.” Tell that phrase to anyone associated with this program, and they will rightly be disgusted with you for bringing up a slogan that after this week, rings painfully hollow.

If hockey was not in the long term strategic interests of the school, that should have been announced far sooner, perhaps before the start of the season, or contingent upon private donations being secured to build an on campus arena, if the program was to fold due to a sport that has brought it international acclaim, it should have been announced as soon as possible to allow people to find employment and places to play for next year.

An already crowded transfer portal and late struggle to recruit players with 2000 birth years just got more crowded.

Functionally, for a school that, again, for some reason, touted its fundraising sucess in the same callous release where it ended so many hopes, dreams, jobs, and aspirations of all of those involved in it, the world of college hockey wonders.

Why not one more season?

What harm would there have been in allowing transfers, and playing the season out?

The broader scope of things

While the tragic choice to end Robert Morris Hockey was made by an administration without much reasoning beyond not wanting the sport on its campus, the release included this quote from President Howard that was, well interesting to us.

“We are saddened for the student-athletes who will be unable to continue in their sport at Robert Morris University and are committed to assisting them during this difficult time,” said RMU President Chris Howard. “However, this is the best course of action to leverage our strategic assets and position us for future growth.”

If this was the course of action, why it took until a leadership retreat last weekend is hard to justify.

In the grander scheme of this sport, while college hockey is expensive to run, the image and opportunity for brand building is unlike many other things at the Division One level. Instead of being a part of two growing sports in the men and women’s game ( 61 teams, and 41 teams respectively), the school has chosen to focus on football and basketball only with its new arena plans.

The rational person wonders?

Why cant this school where the money and desire to play the game is there not support it in its mission. Unlike Alabama Huntsville, no clear mandate for the program exists, no conference issues for either the men or women were ever present, and the money was there.

College Hockey gives the opportunity to a diverse (and hopefully soon to be growing again) group of schools around the country the opportunity to compete for a national championship, send players around the world, and on to the NHL. This sport has so much talent that has not been given the chance to play at its highest level that many aspire to, and for a sport that produces 33 percent of NHL rosters, it was thrown away at Robert Morris, not even worthy of its own press release, earlier announcement, opportunity for the players and program to say goodbye, or fundraise to save it (we hope the programs are given an opportunity by Howard to earn reinstatement).

To other interested schools

If you read this wondering about what schools like Tennessee State (conducting a feasibility study), Liberty, Lindenwood, Navy, and hopefully more, should do, we would encourage them to look at the amount of support not that the administration has, but at how the hockey community has rallied around Alabama Huntsville (reinstated last year after a massive fundraising campaign, and waiting for a new conference home), Alaska Anchorage (getting closer to playing as an independent once they hit the three million dollars raised), and now Robert Morris with over 15000 people interested in demanding answers from Howard on why the program was cut, and a chance to show long term strategic value to the school itself.

Colonial support: How RMU Men’s Hockey has dealt with the pandemic

This season, Robert Morris has had to go on a Covid 19 pause, due to positive cases among their tier one personnel and played multiple games within short segments. As Head Coach Derek Schooley said, the nature of this season forced this group to divide their season into seven game segments. The Colonials won the West Pod of Atlantic Hockey, and have positioned themselves to only have to face the best of the East Pod in the Atlantic Hockey Association Final, should they get past Niagara, and their opponent in the semifinals. If the Colonials can win the conference tournament, then there is a chance that Atlantic Hockey could have two teams in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Part of the reason this team is rolling along is due to the great support it has received from its administration. Assistant Coach Mike Corbett detailed some of what the Colonials were given, saying, “the best thing for us has been the support of our administration through this pandemic.” Throughout the pandemic, the administration of Robert Morris has made life easier for the Colonials to, as best as they can stay healthy, and then while the program was paused the administration did even more. Corbett appreciates the continuity that the administration has provided for the Colonials during this season.

As Corbett noted about his administration more than once during this interview, money was not any object in finding solutions during their quarantine, and that money was no object in figuring things out for the administration. They went so far as to bring workout gear to players’ homes to facilitate Zoom workouts during their quarantine. As Corbett said of these efforts “that’s what they do at Robert Morris.” The group quarantined together as they went through it, and were able to minimize the effect of their pause as much as possible during this hectic year.

We will have more stories in the offseason about the work of administrations to help their hockey teams stay compliant with all of the increased rules and regulations around the pandemic, and how different programs got support during their pauses, if they had them. This pandemic has affected every team in college athletics in some form or fashion, and we will work to bring more stories of how it has affected as many teams as possible to life this offseason.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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The Colonials’ General: Nick Prkusic

(Photo Credit: Justin Berl-RMU Athletics)

Nick Prkusic is the captain of the Robert Morris Colonials. As a leader of this team, he is responsible for helping propel the Colonials to their first national ranking since the 2014-2015 campaign. The St. Albert, Alberta Native has done his part, contributing at or near a point-per-game pace. As first year Assistant Coach, Mike Corbett said of Prkusic, ” he’s got every club in the bag.”

This means that Nick can play anywhere in the lineup, and in any capacity needed. This is a great thing to have in a captain for a younger team. despite the team playing like veterans, they only have three seniors, of which Prkusic is one of them. Due to the pandemic, he has two options following the season, graduate and leave, or come back for one more year .

At the present moment, to his credit, Nick is only focused on this year, despite being a very worthy candidate for an NHL contract as an undrafted free agent. No NHL teams have talked to him as of yet, and given his pace and ability to mentor younger teammates, he would fit with any team in need of a fast skating, big, power forward who models his game after Sean Couturier which is all of them. Like the Flyers Center, Prkusic uses his big frame to help establish himself in the offensive end, and in his own end he is one of the more defensively responsible centers in the league. Prkusic is six feet, three inches tall, and that size, combined with his skillset helps him fit right in with the heavy and fast game these Colonials are.

Prkusic also is playing well so far for Corbett, and likes what he brings to the group. He describes Corbett as being a player’s coach who is always the steady hand on the bench. When the team scores a goal, Corbett is the one telling them to focus on the next shift. When the Colonials fall behind, Corbett is the one to rally the bench and bring folks together to get things don

This team, lead by Prkusic builds on traits that leaders always like to focus on as a means to an end. One of the biggest traits that meet that definition to Nick is honesty, which is one of many things that sold him on playing for Derek Schooley. The Colonials’ Head Coach was straight forward about his role coming from the Alberta Junior Hockey League to the Colonials and what he would need to do that would make him better. So far, Prkusic has hit every mark on his journey to help this team make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in almost the past decade.

One of the biggest areas of honesty for Prkusic is admitting what he is good at, along with areas he wants to improve. Over his time as a Colonial, Nick has only gotten stronger which has fueled other areas of his game. In addition, throughout his career, ever since he made the shift to a skater when he was 12, goal scoring has come naturally for him. Regarding an area to improve, his skating is the biggest thing he knows would help him get further up the ladder to the NHL. As he said, he wants to focus on edge work and acceleration. Prkusic has good straight-line speed once he accelerates, but needs to get there a bit faster. In addition, as a leader he has done a better job this year of staying out of the penalty box. Prkusic mentioned improving on that even more this year.

Away from the ice, this Edmonton Oilers fan lives a pretty calm life, with said calmness being a refuge during the pandemic we are all living through. Prkusic has done a lot for these Colonials, is a strong leader for them as showcased by the play of his line mate, freshman Randy Hernandez, who arguably is in the running for Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year, combined with his own skills. Schooley and Corbett rely on having strong voices in the locker room. Prkusic is a leader for these Colonials, and although they have a lot still left to whether this season, he is the perfect field general to help them get there.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.