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Three Rivers Classic boasts another strong college hockey field

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, 8:18 p.m.

Given the brief-four year history of the tournament, it's a wonder the Robert Morris hockey team can still convince some of the nation's top powers to come to town for the annual Three Rivers Classic.

Last year, the Colonials knocked off No. 8 UMass-Lowell in the finals. In 2012, they beat No. 5 Miami (Ohio) to win the championship.

Still, three top teams have boldly accepted the challenge to play in this year's event, which is scheduled for Dec. 28-29 at PPG Paints Arena.

No. 6 Quinnipiac and No. 8 Boston College will square off in one first-round game in a rematch of a Frozen Four game from last season. Robert Morris will meet Ferris State.

All four teams rank in the top 20 in the country in winning percentage over the past four years, with Quinnipiac (first), Boston College (third) and Robert Morris (10th) in the top 10. They have combined for 11 NCAA Tournament appearances during the span.

The Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau was the MVP of the tournament with Boston College in 2013. Robert Morris goalie Eric Levine, who was in training camp with the Chicago Blackhawks this season, won MVP honors in 2012.

“You can't ask for a better field,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley, who stopped by Penguins practice Thursday to talk about the tournament. “Year to year, this is the best field in college hockey.”

Schooley has a couple other dates circled on his schedule before the Three Rivers Classic rolls around.

On Friday night, the Colonials will play their first home game of the season, hosting Army at RMU Island Sports Center, after getting off to a 1-2-1 start on the road.

The victory was a memorable one. Trailing 5-1 midway through the second period, the Colonials scored four power-play goals in a two-minute span, going on to win, 6-5. Junior Brady Ferguson had three goals and three assists in the game.

“We've got more home games than we've ever had in the city of Pittsburgh,” Schooley said. “We've knocked a lot of our road games off already. Now it's time to start winning some home games and getting some people into our building and getting people excited about Colonial hockey here in Pittsburgh.”

Before the Three Rivers Classic, Robert Morris also will play a home game against Dartmouth at PPG Paints Arena on Nov. 27.

“To be able to say that we're playing three games this year — against Dartmouth and in the Three Rivers Classic — at the home of the Stanley Cup champions goes a long way in recruiting,” Schooley said. “It opens people's eyes. It gets people excited about playing games down here. Our guys get really thrilled and jacked up to play down here.”

Since its inception in 2004, the Robert Morris program has made steady strides toward national prominence. In the past three seasons, the Colonials have won the Atlantic Hockey Conference regular-season title twice and tournament title once.

With 10 freshmen on the roster, it could be a challenge for Robert Morris to keep moving forward this season.

“Every once in a while, you catch yourself — and I'm sure the players do — going , ‘Wow look at what we've accomplished.' But you know the next team's ready to knock you off your pedestal,” Schooley said. “We've got to do our best with a young group. We don't want to rebuild. We want to reload.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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