The eyes of the college hockey universe will turn to Pittsburgh this week for the fifth annual Three Rivers Classic at PPG Paints Arena, and with good reason. Not since the 2013 Frozen Four has there been this much talent or teams with the sort of big-stage appeal as can be found as in this year’s participants.
Alongside hosts Robert Morris, the 2016 version of the tournament will feature Boston College, Quinnipiac and Ferris State. Those teams represent countless NCAA tournament appearances, conference championships, Frozen Four entries, regular season wins, and national championship game appearances. And much of that has been very, very recent.
They’re four teams that are fixtures in postseasons in all of college hockey. At least one of them has been at or near the top of the standings for decades. Three of them have just risen to prominence in the last five years, and all four of them will look to take home the trophy – something that they are all capable of doing.
“It’s grown year by year and every year we have a field that is second to none,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “It’s a great event, in an outstanding facility, put on by a first-class organization in the Pittsburgh Penguins and PPG Paints Arena. Playing in this event is something that our players will remember for the rest of their lives.”
For the Colonials, it’s an important two games. This is the team’s last opportunity to take non-conference wins and the types of wins that could help make a difference later on in the season when the final RPI and PairWise Rankings come out and could help propel them to an at-large bid if the other chips can fall into play. It’s also an opportunity to show the one of the largest crowds they’ll see all season just what the Colonials are capable of, with potential recruits looking in on the action, as well.
With all that said, three other teams will be looking to start their second half of the season with some momentum, and they’re a formidable three to say the least. Let’s have a closer look at the history and the teams that make up this year’s Three Rivers Classic.
2012: Robert Morris
2013: Boston College
2015: Robert Morris
Number of Appearances:
Robert Morris: 5
Penn State: 4
Boston College: 2
Nine others: 1
4:30 p.m. No. 6 Boston College vs No. 14 Quinnipiac
7:30 p.m. Ferris State vs Robert Morris
4:30 p.m. Consolation Game
7:30 p.m. Championship Game
The Field of Four
Robert Morris Colonials (9-6-2, T-2nd in Atlantic Hockey)
Head Coach: Derek Schooley, 13th season (200-199-57)
Overview: The annual host of the Three Rivers Classic, the Robert Morris Colonials have fared very well with two championships and a 5-3 record overall. And in their two title years, they found themselves knocking off highly ranked programs in the championship game, No. 5 Miami (OH) in 2012 and No. 8 U-Mass Lowell in 2015. Starting from scratch in 2004 in the now defunct College Hockey America conference, the Colonials have emerged from a competitive, to a top level team in Atlantic Hockey in the past six seasons, earning an NCAA Tournament berth by virtue of their Atlantic Hockey Tournament championship in 2014, and have taken regular season honors in each of the past two seasons while nearly gaining at large bids in two of the past five seasons, a relatively uncommon feat for schools currently in Atlantic Hockey.
Coming in: For the Colonials, it’s been a fairly quick track to the standard that the program has set in recent years despite the inclusion of 10 new faces to the lineup. Robert Morris enters the fray this week coming off a one point weekend in a home and home versus conference rival Mercyhurst that saw them outplay their opponent most of the series. First half highlights include a three point weekend versus then-No. 11 Ohio State, a four game sweep of Sacred Heart and a win over Atlantic Hockey leader Army.
Players to Watch: Up front, the line of Brady Ferguson, Alex Tonge and Daniel Leavens are as good as they come in the country. The three forwards are all in the top 10 nationally in scoring, paced by Ferguson’s 32 points and 14 goals. At the back, sophomore defenseman Eric Israel has been having a first half to remember and may be one of the best kept secrets in the country as far as offensive minded defenseman goes. He’s been enabled by partner Elias Ghantous who has had a breakout year as a stay at home back liner. In goal, the Colonials have been led by freshman Francis Marotte who’s first half has been nothing short of amazing bringing a 1.87 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage into the weekend.
No. 6 Boston College Eagles (13-6-1, 1st in Hockey East)
Head Coach: Jerry York, 23rd Season (1025-605-111)
Overview: The Boston College Eagles are one of the most dominant teams in NCAA men’s hockey history. Since 1948, the Eagles have amassed 35 NCAA Tournament appearances, 25 Frozen Four appearances and five National Championships with the most recent coming in 2012. One of the founding members of Hockey East, the Eagles have averaged between 25 and 30 wins a season since the arrival of York as head coach. They have been participants in the Frozen Four nearly half the time during his tenure with the program, and are responsible for the development of a number of high-impact NHL players.
Coming in: All has gone according to plan for the Eagles for the most part this season with wins over No. 3 Denver and No. 14 Providence, and some one goal losses to No. 9 North Dakota and No. 14 Notre Dame. Other than that, they’ve taken care of business and are ready to roll into the second half on a good note, making them the favorite to win the Confluence Cup. They’ll be without a few players who were recalled by USA Hockey for participation in the World Junior Championships this week, including starting goaltender Joesph Woll and the team’s third leading scorer Colin White.
Players to Watch: Matthew Gaudreau paces the Eagles with 22 points in 20 games while on the back-end Casey Fitzgerald and Scott Savage come into the weekend with 13 points each. In the net, freshman Ryan Edquist looks to have emerged as the go-to guy with just four games under his belt, sporting a 1.84 goals-against average.
No. 14 Quinnipiac Bobcats (10-7-2, 3rd in ECAC)
Head Coach: Rand Pecknold, 23rd season (476-271-85)
Overview: The Quinnipiac Bobcats progress to the top level of NCAA Hockey has somewhat mirrored the Colonials in certain respects. Emerging from the predecessor of Atlantic Hockey, the MAAC, the Bobcats hit the ground running and were instantly competitive, securing a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2002. After joining the ECAC in 2005, Pecknold kept the program moving in the right direction with a penchant for quick striking offense, and an entertaining style of play. After years of being on the cusp of success, the Bobcats broke onto the national scene as a major player in 2012-13 with a 30 win season and an appearance in the national championship game, where they would lose to Yale at PPG Paints Arena. Quinnipiac hasn’t missed the national tournament since, making another run at the title last season before losing to eventual champion North Dakota.
Coming in: The Bobcats have had enjoyed success on the young season, but are currently on a three game losing streak, including a sweep at the hands of Princeton. When they’re on a roll, they’re as good as any team in the country. The highlights include a 4-2 win over No. 10 Harvard and an early win versus No. 15 Northeastern.
Players to Watch: Senior forward Tim Clifton and junior Landon Smith lead the way with 15 points in 19 games, while on the blue line freshman Brogan Rafferty leads all defensemen with 15 points. Between the pipes senior Chris Truehl is in the middle of another solid campaign with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
Ferris State Bulldogs (7-11-1, 6th in WCHA)
Head Coach: Bob Daniels, 25th season (424-435-96)
Overview: The Ferris State Bulldogs have seen their fair share of ups and downs over their time in NCAA Division-I hockey. Starting in 1979 as members of the former CCHA, the Bulldogs have steadily progressed and built their brand with very competitive play in a difficult conference. They took another step towards national prominence in 2002-03 when they became the first team to win 30 games in NCAA History, making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. After a few more rebuilding years, the Bulldogs returned to the top echelon of competitors, where this time they stayed, as evidenced by NCAA tournament appearances in 2012, 2014 and 2016. In that 2012 season, they advanced to the Frozen Four and National Championship game where they would bow to Boston College.
Coming In: It’s been a bit of a rough go for the Bulldogs who dropped their first six games, but have found their stride lately with more consistent play and two wins over nationally ranked Minnesota State.
Players To Watch: It’s a scoring by committee attack for the Bulldogs with senior forward Gerald Mayhew leading the way with 17 points in 15 games. At the back, keep an eye on freshman defenseman Joe Rutkowski who registers 12 points on the season. In the net, Darren Smith has seen the most action and has been finding his groove lately, allowing just three goals in his last four games while posting a shutout.