Randy Hernandez: Growing and learning for the Colonials

Growing up, Robert Morris Colonial, and Miami native Randy Hernandez always knew he wanted to play the game of hockey. From the first time he went to a public skating session, through the first time he had a stick in his hands, he naturally gravitated to the game. This season for Robert Morris, Hernandez has shown his natural speed and skill with the puck for Robert Morris. For Derek Schooley’s team, he has contributed 10 goals and 12 assists playing with captain Nick Prkusic in key minutes for the Colonials. Hernandez wanted to go play at a place where he would have an opportunity contribute right away

Randy had options when coming to college, but chose to go to Robert Morris because, as he said “It’s a smaller school and for me it’s a better fit… as soon as I got here I knew it was the place for me.” He comes from the Brooks Bandits out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, a program that has produced NHL luminaries like Cale Makar and Curtis Glencross to name a few.

For Hernandez, he models his game not after Makar, but after his Colorado Avalanche teammate, Nathan McKinnon. Randy admires the way McKinnon plays and brings himself to the rink. In addition, like Randy, McKinnon is one of the fastest players at his level. He choose to wear number 29 because of McKinnon, and wants to round his game into the complete package and compete on McKinnon’s level in a few years time. While at Robert Morris, he is looking to build up the defensive side of his game, and other neutral zone skills to compliment his high speed, and hockey intelligence. One of his biggest mentors this season has been Prkusic. They both came from the Brooks program, and play two completely different styles of hockey. Hernandez noted of the Colonials’ captain that “he’s a workhorse [and is] always back checking,” Playing with Nick, and the speed of the game helped Randy understand very quickly that, as he said of the importance of attention to detail at the Division One level , “here if you make a mistake it’s going in the back of your net.”

For now, his resume from the regular season is sterling, and he is looking to help his group get to the postseason. For the Colonials, their only path, despite finishing first in their Atlantic Hockey Pod, is through winning the Atlantic Hockey Tournament. The group has eight practices to get ready for the quarterfinal round, and he thinks that will help them. The staff will focus on honing the finer details of their game, and of the group Hernandez said “we each motivate each other in practice.” The Colonials will be ready to start the postseason next week, both with a wonderful group of veterans leading them, but also helped by stars of the future, like Hernandez.

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“Doing the Right Thing Every Day”- RMU Head Coach Derek Schooley on the Success of the Colonials

(Photo Credit: Justin Berl-RMU Athletics)

Derek Schooley has been the only head coach for the Colonials of Robert Morris. He built the program so it could begin playing in the 2004-2005 season and has been their leader every single day. While you may not know some of the names of his team this year, they are playing on a pace that will open a lot of people’s eyes very quickly outside of Atlantic Hockey this season. Through 11 games, the Colonials are 8-3, with a stretch of nine games in 19 days awaiting them.

To deal with this, Schooley has had to do a few things. First, on October 1 he officially announced the hiring of former Alabama Huntsville Coach Mike Corbett. It was a natural fit for both of them, given the relationship they have had through Air Force Academy Coach Frank Serratore. Both men have coached under Serratore’s leadership and both carry a player first mentality they honed under his tutelage. Schooley left to build the Colonials from the ground up, and Corbett stepped in to fill that role.

As Schooley said on hiring Corbett, “As soon as I had an opening.. I reached out to him immediately.” Both men respect the experience each other has behind the bench, and Schooley was also quick to point out the decade of success as an assistant that Mike Corbett enjoyed at Air Force. When it comes to building a team and being around the right group of people, both are on the same page. In the always changing world of college hockey, to have someone that you have known for two decades work with you is a bit rare.

Back to this group, Schooley is leading a team with only three seniors but one that plays a very veteran style. The Colonials are one of the biggest teams in the country, and they use that size to their advantage, especially on the rare non conference trip. This team took top-10 Bowling Green into the third period up 1-0 and ended up barely losing 2-1 after a tough third period against one of the best teams in the country. The staff is happy with where this group is heading. The Colonials play a physical brand of hockey, but also have more than enough skill to make them a hard team to play against.

The captain of his group, Nick Prkusic, is respected by Schooley and the staff. Prkusic came in a natural goal scorer, and over his time with the Colonials has added some playmaking prowess to his game, along with always being a strong defender in his own end. Through his talent, he has over a point per game so far (nine assists and three goals in 11 games played).

Despite the maturity with which he plays the game, combined with his superb leadership skills, and his responsibility in his own end, Schooley has not gotten any calls or questions from the NHL about Prkusic, Given Schooley’s background and pedigree he knows future professionals in the game of hockey and to him, “Nick’s got the ability to play at the next level.”

On this team, and preparing them for the upcoming daunting schedule of 9 games in 19 days, the leadership group of the Colonials and staff have a plan. The season is divided into seven game segments. This segmented approach by Schooley allows his players to keep focused on the here and now. Given the pandemic we are living through, games are not always certain until players get on the ice.

In order to help this season be played, Atlantic Hockey, the Colonials’ Conference, has utilized a divisional alignment to cut down on travel. It leads to minimizing hotel stays and keeping pods of teams together to minimize scheduling calamities. Schooley has been nothing but thankful for the hard work Atlantic Hockey did to get teams back on the ice, and their diligence in dealing with postponements and trying their best to maintain competitive games.

In those games, Schooley has his players playing the way he wants them to. With their size and speed, they are beginning to find consistency in their lines, and the stellar play of rookie Noah West has given them three viable goaltenders that can step in on any given night.

All three goalies, West, Reid Cooper, and Dyllan Lubbesmeyer could see time as the next seven game segment for these Colonials after they finish this one takes place in 13 days. Due to cancellations and postponements, Robert Morris, now ranked 20th in the country, is effectively doing all they can to support their student-athletes playing a professional schedule in terms of games played.

Of how he works with his team looking to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, one thing from Schooley’s style is very much in line with the approach he and his staff have taken to managing things during this pandemic.

As Schooley says, “it’s about constantly making sure you’re doing the right thing everyday.” If his team keeps winning seven game segments playing a professional-like schedule then his Colonials will be well equipped to compete with AIC for Atlantic Hockey’s Regular and Postseason titles.

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Atlantic Hockey-Take Heed, the Colonials Are Coming

Back in November, when the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville took on the Colonials of Robert Morris, a lot of parallels in terms of physicality and grit showed through in that opening series. While the Chargers frustrated Robert Morris a bit with their speed, the Colonials played sound defensively and drew a litany of infractions from a young team.

Why?

The Colonials seem to be able to score with consistency this year. In addition, given their location they have played some tough non conference opponents this year, first among them being the Falcons of Bowling Green. In a game that they had no business being in, they lead the top ten Falcons late into the third period.

As Colonials’ Head Coach Derek Schooley said of that affair, “I loved our game for 55 minutes, but unfortunately 55 isn’t 60.  We got away from what was working for us for five minutes, and a very skilled team made us pay. I thought we won the battle at 5-on-5, but they won it on special teams and that ended up being the difference. I’m proud of the way we played for the most part, and there’s some real positives to take away from it for us, but we needed to close that game out. It’s about playing smart and playing a mature game and at times we got away from that.”

With that small detail, let’s move back to this team in Atlantic Hockey. For anyone to challenge the back-to-back defending champions in AIC, they need to play a similar game relying on good goaltending, quick scoring in bunches, and consistent defense. These Colonials have all of that as their 4-1 conference record shows.

As Ed Trefzger, RIT play-by-play voice and USCHO writer said quite elequently, ” The addition of UConn transfer Jordan Timmons, a Pittsburgh native, has given Robert Morris a potent top line with juniors Timmons, Grant Hebert, and Justin Addamo. And they’re intimidating, with Addamo at 6′-6″, Hebert at 6′-3″. and Timmons at 6 feet even. That’s a pretty big forward line at any level and especially in Atlantic Hockey.”

This line did well against UAH, and has continued to improve as the year has gone on. For immediate offense, defense, and physicality, one can start with this line. Should they continue to score in bunches, the NHL could be the future home of many of these talented players. In addition, the depth of the Colonials does a superb job at allowing their stars, like their first line, to be themselves a bit easier by not forcing scoring looks.

In addition, following the Bowling Green tough effort, these Colonials knocked off a fast Niagara side 6-1. While the Colonials have a more well rounded team, Niagara plays a very fast game and likes to get on the board early and defend. Today, after freshman Noah West played a strong start to the game in net, the Colonials found their scoring touch in bunches in the second, and poured it on from there. After a tough loss to a nationally ranked team, they came back and dominated time and space against a team that can do a lot without either of those two things.

Why does Robert Morris matter?

Well, given the subjective nature of the tournament this year, and its selection, how they have played against Bowling Green gives credence to, under the right setup, Atlantic Hockey maybe earning two or more bids this season because of the dearth of teams (only four) playing in the ECAC, among other things. Also, this is a veteran team that has not seemed to waver all year or play beyond their skates at all. Schooley has all of them on the same page and ready to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.

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Friday Night Tie Against Lakers Pulls and Binds UAH Together: Now What

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

The University of Alabama Huntsville Chargers (UAH) have improved from their campaign last season, already. Now, they have not won a game yet, but the first three games of this team have shown progression and an ability to fight back that we have not seen at this scale since we started covering them. The Chargers coming back from a two goal deficit to earn their first point of the season is a big step. How they played against the Lake Superior State Lakers today shows there is more to come.

Let’s run through the game first. A Yuki Miura shot leading to a Miroslav Mucha tap in put the Lakers up 1-0 in the first period. 20 seconds after that marker, Chase Gamelin wired home a superb shot from around the top of the right circle past UAH netminder David Fessenden to make it a 2-0 Laker lead in the first. The Lakers were the better team in the first, and even through that, the Chargers began to show their system a bit more than in their Friday night affair with a physical Robert Morris squad from a few weeks ago.

In the second, the period was the Chargers’ to utilize, and make good use of it they did. Adrian Danchenko put home a rebound for his first goal of the season 4:30 into the second to make it a one goal marker. The sophomore forward did not score his first goal as a freshman until his ninth game of the year last season, and already has equaled his goal total from a year ago. Away from the puck, Danchenko played with a strong physical consistency that helped his line push things to the good. 1:09 after the first goal, the reigning WCHA, and Hockey Commissioners’ Association’s Rookie of the Month, Tyrone Bronte found his way to the front of the net on the power play. He tapped home a rebound with traffic around him to tie the game and provide the final 2-2 margin.

On this goal the Melbourne, Australia native went from the North American Hockey League to being the top line center for the Chargers to start the season and has not looked out of place. His line faced off against Miura’s line all night and was up to the task for matching their speed and grit. The Lakers won what hopes to be a meaningless shootout. Multiple reports indicate that should future WCHA games be canceled, the shootouts done in non conference play would then count for standings, so the shootout will hopefully not mean much.

What does this mean now?

Well, the ten minute stretch in the second where the Chargers were running things was the best singular stretch of hockey this team has played in a while. They were able to overcome a less than ideal start and exert their will a bit on the game. This game also showed the value of David Fessenden. Several times in the first and third, he was there when needed and read second chance looks well. He showed the same skill in making 25 saves as many Charger goalies have had to show making 40 or more in a game. That means fundamentally, we see a future for Fessenden, and a better one when this team plays their aggressive system around him and limits good looks.

In addition, Bronte and this freshmen class make this team eons faster than what left the ice in Huntsville last February. Bronte often times against the teams Huntsville needs to beat to ensure a postseason place if one is played will be the fastest player on the ice. His ability to get to the net and distribute is something that will only grow over time, especially as a graduate of the Wilkes/Barre-Scranton Knights program, one known for developing skill and speed driven players ready to work towards their NHL dream in college hockey.

Another thing to keep in mind for this team in the short run is finishing this week strong. This Lakers team will finish higher than their picked station because of their system, structure, and goaltending. We have covered their goaltender Mareks Mitens since 2016 and have not seen a more unheralded goalie do so much for his team as he did a year ago. He set records on his way to nearly willing his team past a Bemidji State side capable of competing for a national championship. In addition, every year we have seen the Lakers, their speed gets better to compliment their physical defense.

The Chargers have all of those elements in place, and need to come out of the gate a bit better in their last two non conference games against the Lakers and Bulldogs of Ferris State to showcase what the Rocket City has been waiting awhile to see. This team has already done some to delete the past, and setting the tone of more of their games rather than answering it needs to be next on their to-do list.

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, 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: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.