Moon Township, Pa. - First-year head coach Paul Colontino of the Robert Morris University women's hockey team was selected as the National Coach of the Year by U.S. College Hockey Online (USCHO) as announced by the organization Wednesday morning.
Colontino led the Colonials to the largest year-to-year win improvement in Division I women's hockey in 2011-12 before guiding the squad to a storybook ending as RMU captured the program's first-ever conference championship.
"We're extremely proud of the performance of our women's ice hockey team this year under Paul's leadership," Robert Morris Athletic Director Craig Coleman, M.D., said. "A turnaround of this magnitude is something really special. Our student-athletes will benefit from Paul's tutelage for years to come."
In his first season as a collegiate head coach, Colontino led Robert Morris women's hockey to unprecedented heights. He helped RMU break its program record for wins by the end of January and finished the season with 19 victories, an amazing 13-win improvement from the prior season. Despite being picked to finish last in the league after the loss of the program's all-time leading scorer, RMU posted the highest-ever finish in league play under Colontino's guidance, with the most CHA wins and points ever, and also reset school records for longest winning streak and longest unbeaten streak during the course of the season.
"It's a great honor to receive recognition like this," Colontino said. "It's definitely something that I think the whole program can share in--the assistant coaches, the staff and the players. A lot of great coaches had great seasons across the nation this year, so that obviously makes it very special that Robert Morris was picked for this award."
Colontino, who previously had claimed CHA Coach of the Year honors, led the squad to one of the biggest regular-season wins in program history Jan. 21 when Robert Morris scored twice in the final three minutes to defeat conference powerhouse Mercyhurst for the first time ever. The victory not only ended the Lakers' 28-game conference unbeaten streak, but it would serve as a harbinger of things to come for the Colonials.
RMU entered the 2012 CHA Tournament as the second seed, but with top-seeded Mercyhurst having won nine straight tournament titles, the Lakers were clearly still the team to beat. After dispatching of Niagara in the semifinals, Robert Morris and Mercyhurst met with the championship on the line. The Colonials opened up a two-goal lead within the first 12 minutes and never let Mercyhurst pull even as RMU held on for a 3-2 win to dethrone the long time CHA champions.
Robert Morris' success occurred due to dramatic improvements on both ends of the ice. RMU broke the single-season school records for both overall goals and goals per game as it averaged over one goal per game more than last season. The Colonials' progress on the defensive end was even more evident as RMU was one of eight squads nationally to allow fewer than two goals per game as Robert Morris allowed approximately 1.90 goals per game fewer than it conceded during the 2010-11 season.
Colontino also guided a couple of Colonials to have noteworthy individual seasons as junior Kristen DiCiocco (Niagara Falls, Ontario / Stoney Creek Jr. Sabres) claimed the CHA Regular-Season Goaltending Trophy and freshman Rebecca Vint (Caledon, Ontario / Brampton Junior Thunder) was selected as the league's Rookie of the Year.
DiCiocco had a breakout junior campaign and received postseason recognition for the first time in her career. She led the CHA in both goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.928) and ranked among the top 10 nationally in each category. She lowered her GAA to 1.92 in league play and only allowed 14 even-strength goals in 12 conference games played. During the middle portion of the season, DiCiocco became the first Colonial ever to win honors in four consecutive weeks in which RMU hit the ice. DiCiocco then raised her game during the postseason as she was selected as the CHA Tournament's Most Valuable Player (MVP) after posting a .947 save percentage during the event, including tallying a career-high 45 stops during the championship victory over Mercyhurst.
Vint had the best offensive season in program history despite being brand new to the collegiate game. She broke RMU's single-season records in points (44), goals (22) and assists (22) as she became the first Colonial to ever reach 40 points or 20 goals in a campaign. In February, Vint was one of just three freshmen nationally named as one of the 30 nominees for the 15th annual Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. Vint broke the Colonials' record for most in-season awards in a campaign as she earned two Player of the Week honors from the CHA, two Rookie of the Month accolades and six Rookie of the Week awards. Vint exploded onto the scene when she scored in each of the team's opening six games, marking the first time ever that a Colonial had scored in any six consecutive contests, and also reset the mark for the longest point streak in school history (12). Vint finished fourth nationally in points per game among rookies with 1.38 and was tied for third nationally in goals by rookies.
Colontino's recognition was the second major award handed out by USCHO as it had previously named Wisconsin forward Brianna Decker as its National Player of the Year. The organization will continue to name award-winners during the final two days of this week.
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