RMU hockey thriving under Schooley
With a Robert Morris hockey team to coach and a major happening approaching, Derek Schooley is, he wryly noted, “a man of many hats.”
These would be construction hats.
In September 2003, Schooley arrived from the Air Force Academy to build a college hockey program where none existed. But now, in their ninth season, the Colonials are a thriving Division I program competing in the Atlantic Hockey Association.
It remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, another project nears completion. Fulfilling a dream Schooley harbored from the moment he got the job, Consol Energy Center in mid-April will stage the NCAA national semifinals and championship — better known as the Frozen Four — hosted by Robert Morris.
“It has been a lot of time and a lot of work and a lot of people putting the time and effort into it, and now it's coming up so close and so fast,” said Schooley, 42, a native of St. Louis. “You think it's so far away, and now it's finally here. It will be a great weekend for the city, a great week for Robert Morris and a great week for hockey.”
Schooley had considerable help from many, including the Penguins, who are engaged in promoting area hockey at all levels. The club has embraced and supported not only his mission at Robert Morris but also his quest to lure the Frozen Four. “The Penguins invited us down even before we started the program,” Schooley said.
The key to getting the Frozen Four was Consol Energy Center; the aging infrastructure of the Civic Arena never could have handled such an event. Once the new building was a go, “that's when we really ramped up our plans to start pushing for it,” Schooley said.
The Frozen Four is directly descended from the once-annual Pittsburgh College Hockey Showcase and the current Three Rivers Classic, both designed to attract top-flight competition. Schooley was instrumental in putting those events together.
“He came in with a vision,” Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said. “Obviously he's a good hockey coach. Obviously he knows the game. You look around sports, you realize it takes a little more in college. You have to be a salesman, you have to be a marketing guy, you have to be a (public relations) guy, and you have to have a vision.”
Schooley's gaze this week was fixed squarely on the home stretch. After Friday night's 4-3 loss at Niagara (the teams will meet again Saturday at 84 Lumber Arena), the Colonials were 10-11-1 in conference (15-12-2 overall) with 21 points, one point behind four teams tied for fourth place. The top four teams get a first-round bye in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. Four regular-season games remain after this weekend.
“Every game and every point is a big deal,” Schooley said.
Robert Morris started 9-4-2 with wins over now-No. 1 Quinnipiac, plus Ohio State, Penn State and Miami (Ohio), then ranked fifth. The Colonials since have leveled off, due largely to its youth and injuries.
But Schooley said the leadership from his five seniors has been exceptional. And this week, the entire team has practiced together for the first time since November.
“I like this hockey team, and I've liked it since Day 1,” he said. “It's been our best team and the best chemistry we've had since the start of the program.”