|Who:||Robert Morris University|
|When:||Monday 7:30 p.m.|
|Where:||CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pa.|
|Stream:||Free Audio / Free Video Stream|
The Nittany Lions (11-2-3) arrive at the home of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins with a great deal of momentum. The team has never been ranked higher, reaching No. 14 in the last USCHO.com poll. The more important PairWise ranking, a tool used by the selection committee when filling out the NCAA bracket at the end of the season, is at the highest level in program history at No. 9 heading into the tournament. Penn State has not lost in its past nine contests, spanning nearly two months back to October 30.
This will be the fourth time the Lions have been part of the Three Rivers Classic which features four teams in a single-elimination format. The tournament is in its fourth incarnation and for the fourth time the field includes Robert Morris and Penn State. The University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Clarkson will round out the bracket, each making a first appearance in the tournament.
Penn State will face Robert Morris on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. while Clarkson and UMass-Lowell play the earlier game at 4:30 p.m. On Tuesday the winners of the Monday games will play for the championship at 7:30 p.m. and the losers of the first-round games will play the consolation match at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
This is the final pair of non-conference games that the Lions will have in regular season play. The field at the Three Rivers Classic provides a great deal of opportunity to strengthen the out-of-conference schedule for Penn State. While it is early in the season, UMass-Lowell (8) and Robert Morris (23) are currently in the USCHO.com rankings. Clarkson is not ranked but was in the top 20 for a few weeks earlier in the season and could easily return to the rankings.
Scouting Robert Morris
The Colonials (9-4-3) have lost only once this season while playing in Pittsburgh but the competition it has faced has been relatively soft. The team is currently tied with Penn State as the second-highest scoring team in the country as both teams average 4.38 goals per game.
Similar to Penn State, the Colonials feature a platoon in net with Dalton Izyk and Terry Shafer. The pair combine for a goals against average of 2.69 compared to Penn State's 2.31 average compiled by its platoon of Eamon McAdam and Matt Skoff.
RMU gets a great deal of the scoring from two lines. Matt Cope, Greg Gibson and Zak Lynch have combined for 58 points on the first line. David Friedman, Spencer Dorowitz and Brandon Denham have 42 points this year from the second line. Lines three and four have a combined 42 points. It will be critical for Penn State to stay sharp while facing the top two lines.
Another strength of the Colonials is the nation-leading power play unit, which scores 35.4 percent of the time. The Lions will have to stay out of the penalty box. There is very little separation between the two teams and with Robert Morris playing what is essentially a home game, there may not be much room for error.
Coach Guy Gadowsky's squad has never won the tournament, finishing fourth last season, second the year before and third in the the first year the tournament was played. Interestingly enough, Robert Morris is the only other team to play in all three previous Three Rivers Classics and has never finished in the same spot twice either. RMU won the inaugural tournament, finished fourth two years ago and second last year.
If this purely coincidental trend continues, Penn State would win two games for the tournament title and Robert Morris would finish third, having won its second game after losing to Penn State. This would be PSU's best possible outcome, clearly, but there is no connection to past years and what will unfold over the next two days.
The Lions enter the tournament with the highest PairWise ranking of the four teams, but with two losses, it could exit Pittsburgh with the lowest ranking in the field. Two wins for the Lions would be a huge boost heading into Big Ten play. Even with two wins and a likely top-10 ranking that would come with it, nothing would be decided or won this early in the year. There is a lot of hockey to be played.
That being said, there is an amazing opportunity for the team. One or more wins paired with a solid Big Ten season may be enough to qualify as an at-large team in the NCAA tournament in March. This is the last chance to make a statement while matched up with high-quality opponents outside the Big Ten. These are tournament conditions at a neutral site, and the winner will return home with a trophy.