A record of 19-9-4, 6-3-3 in conference, and a CHA Tournament title by beating conference power Mercyhurst, vs. a record of 6-21-7 and a loss in the CHA Tournament final to Mercyhurst. Thirteen more victories… that’s the difference that Paul Colontino made to the Robert Morris Colonials, and that’s why the rookie bench boss has been named USCHO’s Coach of the Year for the 2011-2012 season.

It’s not just the victories though, but who the Colonials beat, that really elevates Colontino, a 2000 graduate of Mercyhurst who worked as associate head coach at Mercyhurst with Mike Sisti before leaving for Robert Morris in June 2011. Coming into this season, the Colonials had a losing record against every other team in the CHA, including an 0-28 record against Mercyhurst, a 5-15-5 record against Niagara, and a 4-5-3 record against Syracuse. Their only conference wins in 2010-2011 were against now-defunct Wayne State. The games against Mercyhurst were not even close.

The Colonials started their first campaign under Colontino hot, and stayed that way the rest of the year. They were 11-2-2 going into the holiday break, against a mostly out-of-conference schedule. While four of the wins were against new program Lindenwood, the Colonials also went 2-1-1 against the WHCA and 4-1 against the ECAC.

The Colonials came out the second half slow, losing a pair of one-goal games to Bemidji State and then splitting with Providence before facing heavyweight Mercyhurst, who beat them in the first game of a weekend series, 4-2. It would have been easy to conclude the Colonials would always falter when it came to Colontino’s former squad, but instead, they rallied and scored their first-ever win over Mercyhurst, 3-2, on Jan. 21.

After splitting with Niagara and losing to Princeton, Colontino got the Colonials hot at the right time, as they swept Syracuse and had a win and tie to put themselves into position to possibly claim the regular season crown. Though they fell short, getting a loss and tie against Mercyhurst on the final weekend of the season, the Colonials then came back and claimed the CHA Tournament with 3-2 wins over Niagara and Mercyhurst. It was the first time anybody other than the Lakers claimed the CHA title.

One other strength of Colontino’s record this year was his ability to get eight freshman to quickly adjust to the college game, including forward phenom Rebecca Vint. Besides Vint, who led the team in scoring, four other freshman were regulars.