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RMU Women Still Basking in Glow of CHA Title

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Robert Morris University's women's hockey team recently wrapped up their successful season with a dramatic win against nine-time consecutive champion Mercyhurst in the College Hockey America championship.

The win was the program's first ever CHA championship and moved their win total to 19 for the year, which is also a program best. 

After a 17-9-4 regular season, the Colonials opened up the tournament at home against third-seeded Niagara. After giving up the first goal of the game just three minutes in, RMU quickly got on the board and led the majority of the game before going on to win 3-2.

The win came courtesy of some strong individual efforts. RMU ended the game with 32 blocked shots. Senior assistant captain Brianna Delaney and sophomore Brandi Pollock both tallied six. Delaney also reached an individual milestone after she scored her 52nd career goal, which tied the RMU record. Freshman Rebecca Vint also scored to become one of eight players nationally to score at least six game winning goals. Junior goaltender Kristen DiCiocco ended the game without allowing an even-strength goal, stopping 27 shots in all. The win took them to the first-ever CHA championship game in the history of the program.

Although they entered the championship against the nation’s No. 6 team Mercyhurst as an obvious underdog, the Colonials had spent the majority of the year proving critics wrong. They entered the season picked to finish last in the conference in the pre-season coaches' poll. 

"Going into that situation, you have nothing to lose," DiCiocco said of the game against Mercyhurst, "You just make sure you work your hardest and let your team play their game.”

The Colonials followed DiCiocco's words by scoring four minutes into the game. Freshman Katelyn Scott scored her first ever collegiate goal, and sophomore Thea Imbrogno quickly followed when she crashed the net and scored on her own rebound.  

Although they got off to a positive start, they were forced to kill a lethal Mercyhurst power play multiple times in the game. Mercyhurst's best man-advantage unit in the nation ended the game with 12 power play opportunities, but only capitalized on two. 

"Going into a game against a team like Mercyhurst, you must have all your players put up an effort,” first-year head coach Paul Colontino said. “And all of our players showed up and played well."

Delaney ended up scoring the game-winner—in her last collegiate game—with one minute left in the second period, which moved her into sole possession of first place in career goals (53) at RMU.

RMU ended the tournament with three players being named to the all-tournament team: Delaney, goaltender DiCiocco and senior defenseman Kathryn Stack. DiCiocco was also named overall tournament MVP after finishing the weekend with a .947 save percentage and 72 saves.

"It doesn't really mean that much to me,” the junior netminder said of her individual honors. “Just team success is what I look toward. They are part of my success."

Colontino also emphasized the importance of teamwork after being named both United States College Hockey Online (USCHO) and CHA Coach of the Year. 

"It's nice to be recognized even though I never even stepped on the ice, but this is definitely a team award. They are the ones out there playing," Colontino said.

Adjusting to a first-year head coach can be challenging, but eventually the Colonials eased into the transition.

"At first we were hesitant," DiCiocco said of getting a new coach. "But we quickly learned to love him. He knows when to be serious and when to have fun."

Winning helps, said Colontino. Beating Mercyhurst "says a lot about the people on this team and how high their dedication is. Everyone was concerned with playing their best and playing as a team," he said. 

While DiCiocco and Delaney both downplayed their individual awards, Colontino said they were well-deserved and can have a place in helping the team achieve continued success as the Colonials move forward.

"It's great to see their achievements both on and off the ice being recognized," he said. “It's definitely something younger players can look up to and strive for.”

For a program that only started competing in Division 1 in 2005, a huge tournament win such as the CHA championship can only be positive for recruiting. 

"It's a great step," Colontino said. “Everyone wants to go play for a great tradition and this is a great accomplishment for us."

Ending a season on a high note leaves many expectations for next year. The Colonials will lose seniors Delaney, Stack and captain Paige Pietrangelo, which figures to leave a leadership void at the top. DiCiocco, the soon-to-be-senior, thinks she's up for the challenge. 

"Leadership comes with experience and it comes along with being a goalie. With my experiences I'll be able to help the younger players," she said.

Neil Walker’s contract expires after the 2016 season. The Pirates second baseman is due for a big raise in arbitration this offseason—likely to $10 million—and signing him to a long-term extension will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.
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