By Mike Longo Jr.
Amid all the surroundings befitting a king, the Robert Morris University men’s and women’s hockey programs made a triumphant return to the sports center on Neville Island.
The scene at the off-campus sports complex resembled a Hollywood film script complete with a storybook ending. Unfortunately, it took 900 days for this tale to achieve a happy ending.
“It’s a festive situation,” said RMU Athletic Director Chris King. Beaming from ear to ear, King added, “It’s been a long time coming.”
A long time indeed, since the end of the 2020-21 hockey season to be exact.
Sticking with all the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, RMU rolled out the red carpet as both teams were given a police escort from the campus in Moon Township through Coraopolis and onto Neville Island.
All those associated with each team walked one by one down the red carpet surrounded by a host of faithful fans. Their applause was thunderous, overwhelmingly loud for the most part to the joy and tears of each member.
After completion of their entrances, with more than enough time until the puck dropped, parking lots achieved a party-like atmosphere. Grills began to sizzle with everything from hot dogs to steaks. Appetizers by the plateful made their rounds from hand to hand. Of course, the beverages for all ages flowed freely.
It was one giant party, a celebration like none other and rightfully so. A once thought to be flat-lined athletic program at Division One University had been resuscitated breathing clean fresh air.
The resuscitation process was started by a handful of alums and community leaders who support RMU. Countless individuals and businesses have worked tirelessly to obtain support and financial pledges that they saw come to fruition.
With the goal of keeping the program going for the first two years, the university is on board to then allow RMU athletics to take over.
Once inside Clearview Arena, fans mingled and conversed as long-time friendships were renewed as they browsed a plethora of Colonials merchandise to update their wardrobes. A complete wave of emotions surrounded not only team personnel but fans as well.
The 2020-21 season ended and so did the RMU hockey program. Huge amounts of universities and colleges across America dropped athletic programs. They labeled it as Coronavirus-driven financial losses and non-sustainable programs. RMU followed suit and thus signaled the then demise of hockey.
The celebration on opening day, Oct. 14, was more than appropriate. First up were the Lady Colonials. Logan Bittle has gone from assistant coach to being the main man elevated to head coach. Bittle and men’s Head Coach Derek Schooley worked countless hours daily to make this day a reality.
Hosting Saint Anselm, RMU put on a show, twinkling the twine six times en route to a 6-1 thrashing of their opponent. A very emotional day for each young lady and a glorious outcome.
“It was an emotional day”, said Schooley. “It was a special day, obviously a special day for me as a father, it was truly special.”
Schooley not only watched the rebirth of both hockey programs, but witnessed prior to the men’s contest his daughter grace the ice in a Colonial sweater.
A gleam in his eyes as large as the ice surface, he watched as his daughter, Kaitlyn Schooley on her 20th birthday scored her first college goal. Proud dad moment indeed.
In the night cap was also the much-anticipated return of the men’s team to the Clearview ice. Another sellout crowd of an estimated 6,000 fans were in attendance as the Colonials did battle with Bowling Green.
It didn’t take long for the sell-out crowd to be silenced as Bowling Green darted out to a 1-0 lead and never looked back. For Scholley and company it wasn’t the anticipated outcome as they were shut out. As the final buzzer sounded, Bowling Green had spoiled the RMU “Hockey Returns Party” by a final score of 3-0.
Keeping it in proper perspective Schooley said, “Not the way we hoped things would go tonight, but we’re back and there’s a lot of hockey to be played.”
Overall for the thousands who attended in welcoming back hockey to RMU, it was a good day. A win by the women and a loss by the men didn’t seem to put a damper on any of the long-awaited festivities.
In the immortal words of hockey legend and Stanley Cup Winning Penguins Coach Badger Bob Johnson, “It’s a great day for hockey.”