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February 28, 2012

RMU hoping stretch run provides boost in AHA tournament

As far as hockey in Pittsburgh is concerned, the Penguins are the main attraction. With stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, it's hard not to be a fan.

However, there's also an NCAA club in town, and folks are starting to take notice. So much so that 1,403, a Clearview Arena record, decided to make their way down to Neville Island on Saturday evening to watch the Colonials take on Air Force in their season finale. It's a gesture that has been a long time coming, and one that the players are enjoying.

"It's pretty incredible," senior captain Trevor Lewis said on the record attendance. "We've had some unbelievable crowds, so just to know that everybody around the area supports us is pretty exciting and it's definitely something to feel good about when you're playing."

"Over the past couple of years the attendance has gotten better and we've gotten a lot of support for the Pittsburgh people," senior forward Brandon Blandina said. "Every night it gets a little bit louder and as a player on the ice, you really feed off of that."

Unfortunately for the Colonials, there wasn't enough working for them to get one past the Falcons on senior night, but a series split against the AHA regular season champions is a result that the club is content with heading into the postseason.

"Obviously (Saturday) wasn't the result we wanted but we still played a pretty good game," Lewis said. "The effort is there and we're headed into the playoffs on a good note. It's not the result we wanted but it's still good to get two points this weekend."

Not only was the test against Air Force beneficial, but the final three weekends of the season provided RMU with some quality competition, something that can only make the squad better.

"It was tremendous," head coach Derek Schooley said of the matchups. "We got the third place team at Mercyhurst, we got RIT on the road in a tough place to play and we got the first place team here. Now we've got to be ready to go in the playoffs because it's a new season."

A new season indeed, in which the Colonials will face AIC to kick things off. Although they'll start at home, it was the final regular season contest for 10 seniors on the roster, a realization that hasn't yet sunk in for many. "I think once it starts getting warm outside I'll think 'wow it's over,'" senior forward Nick Chiavetta said. "It's amazing playing here. As a freshman I never thought four years would go by this quickly, but it has."

"It still really hasn't set in," Lewis said. "Fortunately we have a home playoff game next weekend, but I'm going to miss this place. It was pretty special to have my whole family here and it was nice to share this moment with them."

Even though the final contest for points in the standings has passed, there is still hockey to be played. For Blandina, that means no goodbyes just yet.

"I think everyone's looking forward to playoffs and going far in playoffs, so no one really wants to accept having these last games be our last games here at home," the Centennial, Colorado native said. "We plan on continuing to win and hopefully bring home a championship."

A championship would mean coming out on top in two best-of-three rounds, and then winning two more on St. Patrick's Day weekend in Rochester.

The closeness of the group of seniors and the team as a whole is an element that many believe will be monumental in determining the success of the club in postseason play.

"Our class has been the closest group of guys I've ever been with," Chiavetta said. "The camaraderie, sticking up for each other, it's been unbelievable and I think that'll show in the playoffs. We've got a tight knit group, we'll all work hard for each other and we'll try to get it done."

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