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Team Bonding: RMU Opens Season in Alaska 

By Mike Prisuta, Prisuta on Pucks

Pittsburgh -- 
They’re going for the hockey and they’re going for “team bonding,” head coach Derek Schooley has said.

The way defenseman and senior captain Dave Cowan has it figured, the Robert Morris University men's hockey team was already ahead of the game in pursuit of at least one of those objectives prior to departing for Alaska on Wednesday.

“Our guys are probably the tightest-knit group of guys I’ve been a part of in my hockey career,” Cowan said. “It’s quite a special thing, how close everybody is in our program.

“That’s kind of been a theme since I’ve been here. That’s kind of how Robert Morris is as a school.”

That’s a characteristic Schooley hopes will be enhanced on a trip that will see the Colonials take on Alaska (formerly known as Alaska-Fairbanks) on Friday night and Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday night in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush Tournament in Fairbanks.

The Colonials will have earned what they get along those lines and from an experience standpoint after taking on teams from two of college hockey’s perceived “power” conferences, Alaska of the CCHA and Alaska-Fairbanks of the WCHA.

The itinerary started with a 4:30 a.m. Wednesday departure from the Sewall Center and included stops in Newark, Seattle and Anchorage before an anticipated arrival in Fairbanks of 10:30 p.m. Eastern time.

“It’s definitely worth the trip,” Cowan said. “Any time you can play against the CCHA and WCHA it’ll be a good test for our program.

“It’s definitely an exciting time. My sophomore year we went up there and it was quite an experience.”

The Colonials traveled to Fairbanks in October of 2007 and stunned perennial national championship-contender Boston University, 3-2, before beating former CHA rival Wayne State, 4-1.

Alaska, 17-16-6 last season, was a preseason No. 7 pick in the CCHA coaches poll (just ahead of Ferries State, which hosts RMU on Oct. 23-24) and a No. 6 selection in the CCHA media poll (Ferris State was No. 9 there).

Alaska-Anchorage, 14-17-5 in 2008-09, was billed as the ninth-best team in the WCHA in the coaches and media preseason polls.

Alaska is already 2-0 on the young season, including a 2-0 win over Michigan on Oct. 9 in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage. Michigan was No. 3 in the USCHO.com Top 20 at the time and has since slipped to No. 5 in the Oct. 13 poll.

Alaska, which also defeated Mercyhurst, 5-1, in the tournament, has checked in at No. 17 in the latest rankings.

Alaska-Anchorage is 1-1 after beating Mercyhurst, 5-3, and losing to Michigan, 6-1.

The Colonials will have their adaptability tested while playing on an Olympic-sized sheet of ice in Fairbanks (15 feet wider than the NHL standard 200 x 85), which will help prepare them for their trip to Colorado College (Nov. 20-21).

“You have to utilize that space to your advantage,” Schooley said. “But then you have to take away that space and protect the middle of the ice a little more when you’re playing defensively.”

The Colonials had 10 players account for their 11 goals in 8-4 and 3-2 exhibition victories over Canada’s Queens University on Oct. 9 and 10 (junior center Nathan Longpre had two). RMU went a combined 4-for-13 on the power play and killed eight of 10 penalties in games Schooley said contained “a little bit of everything.

“I was more pleased with Saturday night’s 3-2 win because we played better, moved the puck quicker and experienced some things that will help us,” he said.

While bonding in Alaska, the coach wants to see his team “play hard, compete and play our game.”