Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Colonials riding momentum, looking for third straight Classic title

Francis Marotte watches the puck in the 2016 There Rivers Classic. -- ALAN SAUNDERS

Robert Morris will take to the ice at PPG Paints Arena this Friday and Saturday for the sixth annual Three Rivers Classic college hockey tournament. It’s a familiar venue for the Colonials, as they’ve played at the arena 15 times since it opened, with an 8-7 record.

Perhaps more importantly, the Colonials have a 5-3 record against ranked teams in the building and have won four out of their last five games in in the Three Rivers Classic.

But this year’s team is in a big of a different place as they enter the second half of the 2017-18 season. The Colonials are 7-11-1 coming out of the break, their worst mark since 2013-14.

“We’ve had a lot of bad breaks and misunderstandings as to how we got those 11 losses,” head coach Derek Schooley said this week. “Every game has been close. We’ve led or been tied in the third period a lot, we just haven’t come out on the right side of the ledger.”

While the first half was a disappointment overall for the Colonials, it did end on a high note with a home-and-home sweep of a tough Mercyhurst squad.

“It was good to finally get the power play to capitalize and create some space in the games against Mercyhurst and it was good to be able to close a game,” Schooley said. “We were 2-2 here and we won the third period at home. We were 2-1, our lead, up there, and we were able to close games out. That’s something that our team’s been lacking a bit. We’ve not been Mariano Rivera. A lot of blown saves.”

They can keep the momentum rolling in more ways this one this weekend, as they’ll look for their first three-game winning streak of the season and also look to become the first three-time champions in the history of the Three Rivers Classic.

Of course, they’re also the only team that’s played in all six editions of the tournament, with Penn State (four tournaments, no titles) and Boston College (two tournaments, one title) the only other multi-year participants.

But the teams they’ve beaten along the way have been impressive, with the 2012 win coming over No. 5 Miami, the 2015 win coming over No. 14 Penn State and No. 8 UMass-Lowell and last year’s victory coming against No. 14 Quinnipiac. If things play out as expected, they could have another opportunity to win the Confluence Cup against a ranked opponent with No. 11 Providence lurking in the other semifinal.

“We’ve won the last two, so just coming in and knowing you’re the defending the champ for two straight years, we’re expected to win those games,” said sophomore goaltender Francis Marotte. “Even though Providence is 11th in the country right now, if we play them, we’re expected to beat them. I think that’s exciting and that makes us even more ready to play those games.”

Being ready to go isn’t necessarily at the top of the list for teams to be wary of most nights. It’s more of an expectation when it comes to playing high-level Division I hockey. But the first game back from the semester break might be an exception. The Colonials experience in the Three Rivers Classic has them ready to hit the ground running.

“You have to compete when you come off Christmas break,” Schooley said. “I hate the word ‘Christmas hockey’, but most teams are only going to have three practices after being off for some time. We play with energy normally. Getting down there gives us a little bit more energy.”

The Colonials will face Lake Superior State Friday at 7:30 p.m. and the winner of that game will play the winner of Arizona State and Providence on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

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