Robert Morris University’s women’s hockey team started this season fresh with new coaches, new captains and a new attitude.
Losing forwards Mandy Dion and Danielle McCutcheon, two of the team’s top scorers from last season, hasn’t slowed the Eagles’ ratings, as the players are ranked No. 3 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association going into the postseason.
“We had a little bit of a rocky start just getting the freshmen to understand what our team is all about and what it means to play for Robert Morris,” said Ramey Weaver, captain and senior forward. “But we’ve gotten over that, and now we’re doing really well. Everybody’s stepping up and playing great.”
The ladies’ regular season play ended Feb. 3 with the second of two consecutive games against Liberty University in Virginia. The Eagles lost the first game 2–1. Scores of the second game were not available as of press time.
Going into the game, the Eagles had five players on injured reserve, shortening their line depth significantly. That didn’t worry first-year Head Coach Bud Hickey.
“The great news is that because we had significant depth, we’re still able to sustain through [the injuries] right now,” Hickey said. “Had we had a shorter bench or less of a roster, we would have been in a significant amount of trouble.”
Among the injured players were freshman forward Lucia Plyer, freshman defenseman Mollie Madden, sophomore forward Allison Gibson, sophomore defenseman Marianne McLaughlin and junior forward Molly Baker. Hickey said he expects all of them to be ready to play by the postseason but declined to say what the girls’ injuries were.
The lengthy injury list stemmed from the team’s three consecutive games Jan. 27–29 against former ACHA rival Lindenwood University, which this year moved up to NCAA Division 1. “We just came off of three games against Lindenwood, and physically, they just took it to us,” Hickey said.
Even though the Eagles lost all three games against Lindenwood (4-1, 4-1, 6-0), the feeling coming out of the game was a positive one.
“I felt great after [the Lindenwood] games,” said captain and senior defenseman Cassie Beckerleg. “I think our team played really well. They were the best games I’ve seen us play all year.”
Going into postseason play, the team has a record of 16-6-1 against ACHA teams, as of press time, and feels good about its standing going into the Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association playoffs starting Feb. 10.
“I think everybody’s getting into the mind set that it’s coming down to the end, and we’ve really got to start playing well,” Weaver said.
The CCWHA playoffs will have the Eagles facing seven teams in a round-robin tournament. The teams include Grand Valley State University, the University of Michigan, Northern Michigan University, Miami University (Ohio), Ohio State University, Western Michigan University and Michigan State.
In March, the Eagles will also compete in the ACHA National Tournament in Wooster, Ohio, if it qualifies as one of the top eight teams in the league, which it is on track to do.
“Even though we’re Number 3, we received four first-place votes [in the rankings poll], which is the most first-place votes we’ve had all year,” Hickey said.
He also mentioned that the team has beaten both No. 1 Rhode Island and No. 2 Michigan State twice this season, although he added, “Any of those games could have gone either way.”
The team had some adjustments to make this season with a new coaching staff, including Hickey and two new assistant coaches, Fullum and Dion, who both played for the Eagles last season.
Hickey, who has coached at RMU for six seasons, came to the women’s team from the men’s ACHA Division II hockey team.
“I certainly have found that coaching women has been just as competitive for me as it has been for them,” he said.
Hickey also said he came into the season expecting it to be a transition year after losing some major offensive players, but the leadership of captains Weaver and Beckerleg really held the team together.
“Quite frankly, because of them, the transition from coaching men to women has been easier for me than it probably would have been,” Hickey said.
He also mentioned that junior recruit and goaltender Staci Pomering has helped the team immensely this season. Her 1.49 goals against average and .94 save percentage has been an asset to the team, he said.
“In my estimation, she’s the best goalie in the country,” Hickey said.
Weaver, Beckerleg and Fullum also added cohesiveness to the team’s list of strengths.
“Our team chemistry is really there this year,” Fullum said. “Sometimes with girls’ teams or girls’ hockey, you could say there’s drama on the team or cliques, and there hasn’t been that this year. All the girls really get along.”
Next season, Hickey hopes to keep building that team chemistry and also deeper lines.
“We definitely feel we can get stronger and deeper and more balanced across the classes,” he said. “We started with a really good freshman class this year, and next year’s recruiting class I expect to be outstanding.”