Three ranked college hockey teams highlight Three Rivers Classic
With three nationally ranked teams, including both in-state participants, the third edition of the Three Rivers Classic might be the most competitive in the college hockey event's short history.
No. 19 Robert Morris and No. 20 Penn State are joined by No. 17 Colgate and Western Michigan in the 2014 edition of the classic, which returns to Consol Energy Center with two games each Monday and Tuesday.
The opening round Monday will pit Colgate against Western Michigan at 4:35 p.m., with Robert Morris and Penn State meeting at 7:35 p.m. The consolation game will be at 4:35 p.m. Tuesday, and the championship will be at 7:35 p.m.
The matchup between the Colonials (11-2-3) and Nittany Lions (9-4-2) will be the fifth between the programs, both of which are hitting new heights.
Robert Morris is continuing its momentum from last season when it won the Atlantic Hockey Conference and reached its first NCAA Tournament. The Colonials lead the AHC standings this year but will be playing for the first time in two weeks.
“You never want to take a break when you're playing well, but you can't control the schedule,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “We've only played two nonconference games so far this year, so with the Classic and then (No. 13) Bowling Green next week, you want to see where you fit in on a national level.”
Penn State is nationally ranked for the first time in the program's three-year history and sees bigger and better things in its future.
“We've worked very hard, not just the people on the ice, but around the program with a new team and new arena,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “There's still a lot left to do, but it's gratifying to see we're going in the right direction, and the support we've been getting at home and on the road has been tremendous.”
Robert Morris is led by senior winger Cody Wydo, whose 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) place him second nationally in scoring. Wydo's linemate, junior Zac Lynch, has 16 points and is a Shaler product. He is one of two Pittsburgh-area players on the team with senior David Rigatti of Peters Township.
Penn State's top scorers are junior Alaska native Casey Bailey and senior Mercyhurst transfer Taylor Holstrom, both with 18 points. Senior goaltender Matthew Skoff, a Montour product, is the Nittany Lions' lone Western Pennsylvania player, but that is something events such as the Three Rivers Classic could change.
“It's not Minnesota or Massachusetts, but there have always been some good players in the area,” Gadowsky said. “When you have in-state programs doing well and events like this to add to the exposure of college hockey, the numbers will grow and get better.”
The budding in-state rivalry has been an even one. Robert Morris knocked off Penn State on the way to winning the 2012 Classic, and Penn State won the 2013 meeting before losing to Boston College in the final.
“You've got so many rivals within the league, but with only three (Division I) teams in the state, it is special,” Schooley said. “We've played Penn State four times, the series is 2-2, and they've been close, well-played games.”
The opening game between Colgate (9-6-1) and Western Michigan (5-8-1) matches two first-timers to the Three Rivers Classic with no local ties on either roster. But the chance to play in an NHL arena against top competition has made the event an attractive one.
“Any time you get to play in an NHL facility, it's exciting for kids,” Schooley said. “These kids strive to play at the NHL level, and we want to help them get there. Pittsburgh's really become a hockey town, and this is a chance for people to see four high-level teams.”