David Weldon is editor of RMU Centre Ice. As part of a content exchange agreement, Weldon will provide exclusive content for Faceoff Factor on a regular basis.

The season hasn’t even started yet, and won’t officially start for another week, but we’re already hearing noise from this team and the new attitude that’s taking shape in the locker-room.

You might call it energetic, enthusiastic or even excited.

Colonial alumni, Doug Conley was invited to play on the Blue team in this year’s Blue/White scrimmage and he told Coach Schooley that the locker room he saw that day, seemed to be the most close knit group of guys he’s ever seen down on the Island.

It’s always a positive when right off the start of the year, when you notice comradery in the locker room. It’s a good sign. A sign that late in the game, those players are going to go to war for each other, battle hard around the boards for loose pucks and fight to make plays happen, when they may not seem like there is anything there.

The Colonials have just come off four days of hard workouts, finishing with a double practice day, focusing on special teams in the evening practice.

There’s a lot of talent on this year’s team, there’s no doubt about that. It’s whether or not that talent will make an impact, or if it even needs to.

That’s an interesting question actually, where will this new blood fit in on this team and how do they need to fit in?

Coach Schooley put it best Monday morning on the team’s day off, “I think the roles of Freshman are undetermined, Freshman are Freshman, and you expect a lot of them, but to expect them to come in and be major contributors is fooling yourself a little bit. They’re going to have growing pains, they’re going to have things they need to work on and things they need to learn. There is a lot more structure in college hockey, a lot more practice, the guys are bigger and stronger. To expect Freshman to come in and lead you to the promise land is fooling yourself, but we need to make sure that we do a good job of getting them ready to prepare every week.”

It’s no question that there is some ground that needs to be picked up on this team with the production loss (through graduation) of Chris Margott and Jason Towsley. It is also promising to know that this year’s team will be returning all but two seniors (Captain Defenceman, Dave Cowan & Forward J.C. Velasquez). Building on early success will thrive in the locker room when guys look around and know that they’re going to be building with each other for quite awhile.

It’s no secret that Coach Schooley wants one more crack at the CHA Tourney Title, and even the Regular Season Title. Who wouldn’t? Final year of the conference, two appearances to the CHA Title Game, just missing the NCAA Tournament by a goal…each time. That’s enough to make any Coach’s blood boil.

It’s no question that a lot of people thought it was last year’s team that had to do it, especially with the scoring power that was on that roster. Early injuries took their toll, transfer Chris Kushnieriuk was hurt early on with a nagging foot injury. Senior defenceman Matt Krug had an undisclosed injury in the middle of the year. On top of that, there was a large amount of turnover in goal for that team.

That was last year’s team. A lot of confidence did come from that team down the stretch.

Chris Kushnieriuk ended up moving from left wing to centre on the second line, as well as finding himself at centre on the second powerplay unit as well. Freshman goaltender Brooks Ostergard filled a massive void in net for that team down the stretch, finishing with an impressive run through the stretch of the regular season and the CHA Tourney. Defenceman Brock Meadows, another transfer (along with Kushnieriuk) from Wayne State, became a staple with his ability to disrupt offensive flow, thus adding to a great balance of offensive defencemen and hard hitting defencemen.

There is a lot of youth on this team, with the ability to contribute and that is the key for Coach Schooley and his staff, in regards to where they see their freshman (and sophomores alike) fitting in. For one, it’s a different class of Freshman when they’re 18, 19, and 20 years old. Versus the first two years when incoming Freshman were 21, 22, 23. These younger guys come from a more talented block of hockey, a chance to be molded into a formula that will turn into success at the collegiate level.

Freshmen like Zach Hervato, Andrew Blazek, Anthony Principato, will all get their chance to contribute offensively, but what will make the largest impact to this team, is there ability to shut down defenders and control the neutral zone. Tyler Hinds will make a nice addition (time will tell exactly when) to the offensive production that we see from Denny Urban on the blue-line. Urban has lead RMU’s defencemen in scoring since he arrived at Robert Morris. Urban’s own defensive play continues to get better, and his production value only rises each year. Statistically he was third on the team in scoring last year (only behind Margott and Longpre), with 27 points (4 G, 23 A), as well as quarterbacking the point on the powerplay.

Don’t forget the Sophmores on this team that we maybe didn’t see as much playing time last year, but shouldn’t be forgotten. Most notebly, Cody Chrichton is at the top of that list of sophomores, who expect to see more playing time, if the hard work is there in practice. Coming out of the OPJHL, Cody posted 75 points in his final year in Juniors. He only saw game action in 17 contests, registering only two points.

Not much contribution in his first season. But it’s not his last.

It’s easy to think that Junior play will quickly translate into College Hockey, especially when you look at a player’s production on paper. We can quickly learn that this is not the case. Cody’s lack of playing time, is something that came internally, maybe from practice, the locker room, or he just didn’t it in the lineup yet. We can speculate all we want on situations like Cody’s because you will never know 100% why, coming out of this program.

Sophomore Furman South was a player that took his role on the third and fourth lines, and earned it. He came on strong as one of the team’s top defensive forwards, putting himself in good position against the top lines of Colonial opponents. That’s a lot from a Freshman, especially late in the season. Those are the types of plays that build the solid foundation that brings success in the RMU program.

If I had to pick one player that has the fast track to success in offensive production, that would be Sophomore forward Trevor Lewis. Lewis appeared in 34 games last year, scoring 17 points (7 G, 10 A) earning CHA player of the week, twice and CHA Rookie of the Year. While in Juniors, Trevor had a 40 point season, only to increasing his scoring the following year to 67 points. Trevor found himself getting opportunities late in the year on the top powerplay line with Nathan Longpre and Chris Margott (who were the offensive staples to the team, 40+ points each for the year), giving him plenty of experience to get more comfortable as the year went on.

Is it possible to see a dramatic increase in production from the players that you can speculate about? Sure, why not, it’s kind of fun thinking that way isn’t it?

No? ok, well, let’s agree to disagree.

What is a FACT for this team, is it’s backbone. That backbone consists of Junior Assistant Captain forward Nathan Longpre, Junior defenceman Denny Urban, Junior Assistant Captain forward Chris Kushnieriuk, Senior Captain defenceman Dave Cowan, and Sophomore Goaltender Brooks Ostergard.

As a Sophomore Longpre put up ridiculous numbers, 41 Points (12 G, 29 A), centred the first powerplay unit and the top foward line. It’s no question that Longpre’s success came from the production of Senior Chris Margott who scored 44 points. On a national scale, Longpre was ranked 17th in scoring, 2nd in the CHA conference, and even 8th in the nation in assists. That will be the key question for Longpre however, who will put up the goals on his assists? Longpre’s style, that we’ve seen so far, is sitting as the team’s best playmaker. We haven’t seen a lot of goal production from him so far (7 in ’07 and 12 in ’08), but putting up 41 points in his second year, there’s no telling where he could go.

I mentioned earlier each of these players that ride along the “backbone” of this team, there has to be leaders who will rise up to set the tone early for this team. In the final year of the CHA, (as RMU moves to the AHA next year) it would be great to accomplish a feat that the RMU program has yet to do, win the CHA Regular season Title, or the Tourney Title and go to the NCAAs. “Each CHA game means something, each one is important, you never know how many points it will take to win the conference” – Head Coach Derek Schooley.

RMU takes on Queens College in back-to-back exhibition matchups Friday and Saturday at the Island Sports Center, both games are at 7:05pm.