New Colonial Era
Schooley’s steady hand has Robert Morris
ready to hit the ice
The 12 months
since he was introduced as Robert Morris’ first head coach
have been hectic for Derek Schooley. The recruiting demands alone
have been enough to put him on a first-name basis with the Enterprise
rental car dealer in town.
the middle of those recruiting trips and endless administrative
chores, Schooley found time to relax with a copy of The Hockey News.
Little did he know, when you are building a new college hockey program
from scratch, even a little downtime can present an opportunity
to cross something off your to-do list.
had met with several equipment reps in search of a jersey design,
was almost at the end of the magazine when the Hartford Wolf Pack’s
white sweaters caught his eye. Once he tracked down their designer,
S&P Apparel, he had the company make a few tweaks and the Colonials’
look was set.
College Hockey's 2004-05 season preview includes an in-depth
look at the process of building programs at different stages
in their development:
• From scratch: Robert Morris
• Rebuilding: Bowling Green
• Making the Leap: UMass Lowell
want to copy something that you see a lot, like the Rangers or Team
USA,” said Schooley, the former Air Force assistant coach.
“I wanted to see something unique.”
In a sense,
that captures the entire process of starting a program from scratch.
As much as Schooley leaned on others for advice – notably
Niagara’s first coach, Blaise MacDonald, and Bill Wilkinson,
who started the Wayne State program – the end result is entirely
unique: a collection of 28 players ready to begin College Hockey
America play this winter as Pittsburgh’s first Division I
those players, and convincing them to come play at a school with
no hockey history, was Schooley’s first big challenge. He
started simply, just trying to make the school’s name known
and to make junior players and coaches aware of the opportunities
he had to offer.
soon there was a buzz around hockey about us,” he said. “I
heard a few kids refer to us as an expansion program.”
nothing comes easily for new programs, at least in their first
year. But success might not be far off, and often comes while
that first recruiting class is still on campus. Here’s
a quick look at the last three Division I programs to start
First year: 1996-97 (16-9-2 record)
Program highlight: The Purple Eagles’
30-8-4 record in 1999-2000 included an NCAA Tournament bid
and an improbable upset of New Hampshire.
First year: 1997-98 (12-18-3 record)
Program highlight: The Mavericks have had
a pair of 20-win seasons since, but in 1999-2000 they made
a playoff run to Joe Louis Arena, stunning Michigan and coming
one win away from an NCAA bid.
First year: 1999-2000 (6-23-1 record)
Program highlight: The Warriors captured
the CHA Tournament and the conference’s first automatic
berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2002-03, finishing the year
give new college programs an expansion draft, however. That meant
Schooley had 20-plus spots to fill, whereas his counterparts on
the recruiting trail might be looking to fill five or six specific
roles. That meant scooping up as many good players as possible without
thinking about roles – at least early on.
coaches told me] not to try to build a team yet,” he said.
“Toward the end of the recruiting class I started to think,
maybe we have enough defense we need some skill, or maybe we have
enough small guys up front and we need some size. But that didn’t
happen until very late in the process.”
on finding players from winning teams, feeling that they would bring
a winning atmosphere to Robert Morris. Ten players on the Colonials’
roster won a championship – either regular season or playoff
– in junior hockey.
needed to identify players who would embrace the challenge of starting
a program from scratch. While other schools parade recruits in front
of championship banners, Schooley had to sell the value of contributing
to Robert Morris’ first banner – whenever that may be.
from his experience at Niagara that this can be a positive. First,
some recruits love the idea of starting a program. And second, the
ones who do appreciate it are exactly the types of players a developing
it’s an exciting selling point, recruiting-wise,” said
MacDonald, whose first class at Niagara included current Robert
Morris assistant coach Nate Handrahan. “You have the chance
to put your stamp on a program. There are a lot of positives about
starting a new program. The identity is forged by you – you
don’t have to fit in to someone else’s identity.
of good recruiters, like Derek, have a sense of who fits into the
type of environment you are creating. You don’t want to try
to sell ice to an Eskimo.”
opposing recruiter offered his thoughts on Derek Schooley’s
first class at Robert Morris:
think they did pretty well. As that class becomes juniors
and seniors, especially, I think you’ll see some really
don’t have any forwards who are going to carry the mail
right away, but they’ll have some sleepers. Jace Buzek
is a solid all-around player. He’s not going to put
up great numbers, but he’s solid. And David Boguslawski
will turn out to be a good player. [Defenseman] Andrew Bonello
is younger – he’s a true freshman – so he’ll
struggle at first, but he’ll be a good player. For them
to have an ’86 [birthdate] is pretty good.”
three or four weekends each month on the road recruiting, Schooley
still had plenty of administrative matters to attend to in Pittsburgh.
The big things
got taken care of fairly early, like preparing the Island Sports
Center, which Robert Morris recently purchased and Schooley calls
“an excellent facility.” Nearly four months after Schooley’s
arrival, the Colonials accepted an invitation to join the CHA, the
conference he coached in at Air Force as an assistant. (Contrary
to some reports, Schooley says that Robert Morris hasn't discussed leaving the CHA in the future.)
visible elements are a lot like the game uniforms, however –
underneath are an unimaginable number of details Schooley had to
address as well. Unlike an existing program, he had no equipment
leftovers from the year before. Everything, from helmets to skate
laces, had to be ordered.
thing is to be patient and persistent when you are implementing
your overall plan,” MacDonald said. “It’s so broad-based
– you are doing everything from designing stationery to uniforms,
and obviously recruiting players. It can be overwhelming, so you
have to be patient.”
filling out orders for t-shirts and game pucks in August, said it
seemed like a whole other job: “I felt more like the general
manager than the head coach.”
certainly some truth to that. For all of a hockey coach’s
responsibilities in the first year of a new program, there’s
one thing he never has the chance to do – coach hockey.
got behind a bench this summer, working at the USA Hockey Select
16 Festival in Rochester, N.Y. But he’s clearly itching to
get on the ice for practice with the players he’s brought
to Robert Morris.
the youth of the players, laughing at their jokes and hearing the
music in the locker room,” Schooley said in late August. “I’m
excited to get them on campus and experience that again.”
if the Colonials are struggling and a Jay-Z track is doing no favors
for a loss-induced headache, Schooley might not feel so enthralled
about being surrounded by 25 freshmen.
But even if
the rewards aren’t immediately evident in the win-loss column,
Schooley will be able to take pride in a program he started from
nothing. And at the very least, the sweaters will look sharp.
this to a friend
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