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February 10, 2012

RMU, Mercyhurst prep for I-79 showdown

The drive between Pittsburgh and Erie can be a rather uneventful one. Almost two hours of nothing more than some trees, fields and perhaps a barnyard animal of sorts. This usually allots for plenty of time to think. For two teams that will make this drive twice over the next 48 hours, there won't be much to think about. Except two points.

Mercyhurst, one of the Colonials' biggest rivals, is the weekend's opponent in the final home-and-home series of the campaign. With only six contests to go until the postseason, Robert Morris is eager to face off against the Lakers, who sit four points ahead of them in the AHA standings.

"This is going to be a challenging weekend for us," head coach Derek Schooley said. "They've got good players, they've got good goaltending that's doing very well and they've got a lot of young guys that have contributed to their success this year."

There is some familiarity with Mercyhurst, a team that RMU has faced twice already this season and lost to in last year's playoffs. The Colonials are well aware, however, that this is a different team than the one they beat twice back in the fall.

"I'm sure they're a different team than they were in the beginning of the season," senior captain Trevor Lewis said. "I'm sure they've matured and gone through the whole process and they've obviously been doing really well."

"When we faced them early, they were still trying to figure themselves out," Schooley said. "I think everybody in the league just kept waiting for them to hit that slump and they haven't."

Even though a different team is expected, it's still Mercyhurst. The Colonials know the tendencies, and they hope to be able to exploit them.

"We know what system they're going to play in," goaltender Eric Levine said. "We've seen them a couple of times and I think we know what to expect."

This is the third week in a row that RMU will participate in a home-and-home series. Unlike the past two weekends, however, they'll start tomorrow night on the road, and finish up Saturday on Neville Island. It's not an enormous change, but there is something to be said for finishing up in the home barn.

"If you can play on the road the first game and get some points, I think that's an advantage going in to your building," Schooley said.

Regardless of the building, four points are up for grabs. Convert in both contests, and the Colonials would be tied with their opponents in the standings. Drop two, and the separation from the top simply grows. Even though the focus is always the present, the club is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead, starting this evening.

"We have to be ready to play," Schooley said. "I don't think there are any games this time of year in any league that you can say, 'OK, we've got this,' because points are critical. It's going to be a challenging weekend for us."

A challenging weekend that will be full of thoughts. And a two hour bus ride on an empty road that, with the potential for program victory number 101 preceding it, could seem much shorter.

- Both faceoffs, tonight at the Mercyhurst Ice Center, and tomorrow evening at the Clearview Arena, are set for 7:05.

- The Colonials continue to boast the best penalty killing unit in college hockey, the only one in the nation clicking at an over 90 percent kill rate.

- Robert Morris is 3-2-2 all-time against the Lakers, including 2-0-0 this season.

- Cody Wydo needs just one goal to tie Chris Margott's RMU freshman record of 13.

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