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January 24, 2014

'Wagon Wheel' line back in place for RMU

Any music aficionado would likely tell you that the name "Wagon Wheel" refers to the title of a wildly popular tune from folk/bluegrass/old-timey country awesomeness group, Old Crow Medicine Show. For those associated with Robert Morris hockey, the name holds a double meaning.

Last season, Greg Gibson skated on a line between Matt Cope and Brandon Denham for the duration of the campaign. The group of forwards were all freshmen at the time, and thanks to two larger wingers in Cope and Denham, and anchored in the center by the smaller Gibson, the trio became known as the 'wagon wheel' line, thanks to the ability to throw their weight around on the forecheck, and occasionally, pot a big goal or two.

Due to various injuries throughout the lineup to begin the 2013-14 run, the line was split up across the roster. However, once the calendar flipped a couple of weeks ago, the three were reunited, and haven't missed a beat.

They were just one of the reasons that the Colonials were able to continue their hot play this past weekend, taking three of a possible four points from American International. RMU and AIC skated to a 4-4 tie on Friday evening, with the Colonials coming from behind multiple times to earn a point. Gibson did his part on Saturday afternoon, recording two of RMU's five tallies in a 5-2 victory to close out the series.

"It feels good (to be back together)," Gibson said. "We bring energy to the team, but when we contribute with goals, I think the team really feeds off it too. Ever since we've been back together, it's been good and the chemistry is there."

"They had seven points and three goals on the line (over the weekend) and they were very comfortable together," said head coach Derek Schooley. "They got back to playing as hard as they possibly could and provided a lot of energy for our hockey team.

"They've played extremely well since they've been back together on January 1st. It's no coincidence that our record is 4-1-1 since they've been back together."

Robert Morris carries a 6-6-3 mark in Atlantic Hockey into this weekend's series against an Air Force team that is on a streak of their own, winning five in a row, and always perched near the top of the AHA. The Falcons lost their starting netminder, Jason Torf, to injury a few games back, but freshman Chris Truehl made a seamless transition, backstopping Air Force to five wins in his first five career starts.

"They're a very good hockey team, and one of the things you notice is their resiliency," Schooley said. "It's going to be a good challenge for us. They bring an extremely high work ethic and we've been working extremely hard. It should be a battle of two teams that are desperate to play with a lot of energy."

Gibson and his linemates will undoubtedly be counted on once again to provide a good bit of that energy. The sophomore says there's no secret to the 'wagon wheel' formula; just keep rolling.

"We keep it simple," Gibson said. "We know going out that we're going have to grind and muck against every line. We don't really talk; we just know we have to bring energy every shift."

The New Year's cleansing has been working for RMU, and the satisfaction of another successful weekend only adds to the confidence of facing a top team like Air Force.

"The locker room is great right now," said sophomore goaltender Terry Shafer. "There's no doubt in my mind that we can play with anybody in our league, but now you're starting to see the confidence come out. Guys are starting to make some really nice plays and it's starting to show in our record."

Shafer and his mates are enjoying skating within the friendly confines of the 84 Lumber Arena once more, and are anxious to protect their territory on Friday and Saturday night.

"You have to respect them, but at the same time, this is our barn," said Shafer. "If they come out here and try to beat us in our building, we're going to be ready to take it to them. We're a hot hockey team right now. We need points so we're just going to go out there and give them everything we've got."

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