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Top Line Propels Robert Morris to Record Start

Colonials trio is second-best in NCAA hockey

Brittany Howard, Amber Rennie and Jaycee Gebhard celebrate a goal for Robert Morris.
Jason Cohn/RMU Athletics

Pittsburgh, Pa. — What started with two young girls playing in the rinks of Saskatoon has morphed into one of the top scoring lines in women’s NCAA hockey.

Over the last 10 years, Robert Morris University freshman Jaycee Gebhard and sophomore Amber Rennie have been playing alongside each other, making a stop at the famed Notre Dame preparatory school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan and reuniting as Colonials at RMU.

The Notre Dame Hounds have produced the likes of Rod Brind'Amour, Wendel Clark and Vincent Lecavalier, to name a few, along with more than 100 female athletes competing at the NCAA or CIS levels. Rennie and Gebhard’s head coach at Notre Dame, Janice Rumpel, played a role in connecting the duo with Robert Morris.

Rennie was the first of the two to join the Colonials fold, signing to come on board without ever setting foot on campus. A late signee prior to her freshman year of college, Rennie made an impact right away, earning conference rookie of the week honors the first week of her college career and scoring three game-winning goals for the team en route to a 10-goal frosh campaign.

While Rennie enjoyed her first stint with RMU, Gebhard continued her successful career with the Hounds, a team she led in scoring in the 2013, 2014 and 2016 seasons. Rennie’s success and impressions of Robert Morris made their way back to Gebhard, who decided to join her childhood teammate in Pittsburgh.

The backstory of Rennie and Gebhard reconnecting at Robert Morris is important to understanding the role their chemistry has played on the ice this season.

Gebhard has scored four goals and six assists, tied for second in the nation in scoring. Rennie isn’t far behind, with nine points on three goals and six assists. But there is another player on the Colonials top line.

Brittany Howard is the College Hockey America player of the week after a four-point weekend versus Vermont. Howard centers Rennie and Gebhard, a trio who have combined for 27 points through six games. Only No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth has a forward line scoring at a higher clip, with Lara Stalder, Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Katherine McGovern combining for 28 points.

Howard, a redshirt junior, spent the 2015-16 season skating on a line with Rennie; they developed chemistry of their own, something head coach Paul Colontino has been able to rely on in introducing Gebhard to that top line as a rookie.

“They keep doing great things,” said Colontino. “She [Howard] just keeps setting people up and they are finishing. The chemistry, you can see it. It is great, and you just want them to keep playing great hockey.”

A combination of speed and communication has the Rennie-Howard-Gebhard line flying past the competition. Beyond just five-on-five play, the trio is first on the ice for power play opportunities, producing 13 power play points in the first three weekends of play.

“We are always talking to each other,” said Rennie, “letting each other know where we are, supporting each other. We want to make the best of every opportunity.”

“That line particularly,” said Colontino, “they help establish that pace. They amp up the game.”

Despite the line’s speed, many of their goals have come with all three players crashing the net. Both of Howard’s goals in Saturday’s contest against Vermont came from within inches of the crease, her first one from her knees and the second while falling on top of Rennie.

“I guess that’s what these girls like to do,” remarked Colontino. “We are getting shots through to create this situation, and we are jumping on the rebounds.”

The contributions of the top line have certainly played a major role in Robert Morris’ program-best start. The Colonials are 4-0-2 and one of just four unbeaten teams remaining in NCAA women’s hockey, along with No. 1 Wisconsin (5-0-1), No. 5 Colgate (4-0-0) and seventh-ranked St. Lawrence (3-0-1). RMU continues to receive votes in the national polls this week but will need to continue to keep the pace of play moving forward to keep their six-game streak alive next weekend against upstart Merrimack (2-4-0).