Then Derek Schooley arrived at Robert Morris University there was little doubt that he had his work cut out for him if he was going to build a hockey program from scratch.
“I came in my first day and all I had was a desk. There was no computer and no phone,” Schooley recalled. “We had to literally build a program from the desk on up.”
Almost a decade later, and Schooley is well on his way to building a powerhouse program on the banks of the Ohio River. It’s also no surprise that the program’s success mirrors what is happening at all levels of the game in the Steel City.
“It’s been a lot of work, and we couldn’t do it without dedicated people who really believed in a vision, and this vision is really starting to take off over the last couple of years,” said Schooley, who was tabbed to be the architect of the Robert Morris hockey program after four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Depending on your level of patience, the program appears to be ahead of schedule in its march to national prominence. Over the past three seasons the Colonials have won 18, 17 and 20 games while competing in the Atlantic Hockey Association.
Much of that success has come, oddly enough, during the team’s non-conference schedule, with victories over Ohio State, Penn State, Miami University and Quinnipiac, the eventual national runner-up.
“We were 17th in the Pairwise Rankings, which is just one spot out of the NCAA tournament,” Schooley said. “So it shows how we have become a player in college hockey that has gotten better every year and has the ability to beat some good teams.”
One of the keys for the future, Schooley said, is to expand that talent pool of players who view Robert Morris as a viable option for talented recruits. That’s where hosting the 2013 Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I National Championships at the Island Sports Center helped raise the profile of the school among some of the top American teenagers.
“I came in my first day and all I had was a desk.”
It also gave Schooley and his assistant coaches a front row seat to some of the nation’s best young talent while showing off the school, hockey facilities and the city of Pittsburgh, while adhering to the NCAA’s strict recruiting rules.
“It’s great for us to have players in our building and to be able to see Robert Morris University, our program and also the city of Pittsburgh,” Schooley said.
“It’s a beautiful area, and it’s a big part of our recruiting pitch. It’s a great hockey city and is really starting to take off.”
Adding to the level of exposure, Robert Morris played host to the 2013 Frozen Four, positioning both the school and the city as major players in the college hockey community.
“I’m really proud of our success, and I’m really proud of where our program has come from,” Schooley said.
“But there’s still a long way to go and a lot more that we need to accomplish.”