PITTSBURGH — The Robert Morris Colonials and Penn State Nittany Lions opened the Inaugural Three Rivers Classic tonight at the Consol Energy Center, and from the drop of the puck, it looked as if the record crowd of 11,663 would be in for a close, hard-fought game with a few post-whistle dust-ups thrown in for good measure. However, the Colonials used a three-goal onslaught in a three-minute span at the end of the opening frame to propel them to a 6-0 victory and a spot in Saturday night’s championship game.
Andrew Blazek opened the scoring on the second shift of the game when he took a puck in the neutral zone and skated around Penn State defenseman Peter Sweetland and unleashed a rising shot from the low left circle that clanked off the crossbar and behind starting Nittany Lions goaltender PJ Musico to put Robert Morris out front at the 1:49 mark. However, the early goal didn’t phase Penn State at all as, it calmly took over the game over the middle portion of the first period.
The Nittany Lions received a golden chance to even the score midway through a power play when forward David Glen took a seeing-eye pass up the middle at the Colonials blue line for a breakaway scoring chance which was denied by Colonials starting goaltender Eric Levine.
For the next several minutes, it appeared the crowd would be in for a classic battle to the finish, not unlike the game between the two schools earlier in the month at Penn State.
However, the game changed on a dime in the final five minutes of the first when Robert Morris buried three shots behind Musico in rapid succession. The first came at 16:33 when senior forward Adam Brace skated through the Nittany Lions defense starting in the neutral zone en route to his sixth goal of the season. Not even a minute later, Cody Wydo hammered the first of a pair of rebounds home, the second coming at 19:02 of the first to put Robert Morris up 4-0 heading into the dressing room. The Nittany Lions seemingly had no answer for the line of Wydo, Brace, and freshman David Friedman, who kept coming up with one great rush over the blue line after another for much of the first period.
Musico was pulled in favor of Matthew Skoff in the Nittany Lions net for the remainder of the game.
“It was a tough hockey game for us,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “When you get a 4-0 lead, usually what happens is you take your foot off the gas and that’s what we did. But we righted the ship in the third. I thought we were very good offensively tonight, and we were great from the red line in but a little sloppy in between the blue lines, and defensively we’ve got some things we need to tighten up. When we made some mistakes defensively, Levine was there to bail us out.”
The second frame saw the Colonials take the foot off the gas, and had it not been for some timely saves from Levine, the game could have turned completely. Penn State applied the theory of whomever does not have the puck cannot score, and applied it very well, keeping the Colonials from organizing anything close to the offensive pressure they had maintained earlier in the contest. Penn State outshot Robert Morris, 14-4, for the period and dominated territory, but could get nothing past Levine, who stopped 48 shots on the night on the way to his third career shutout.
“Certainly we put ourselves in a deep hole tonight.” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. “It could have gone a little different. David Glen had a breakaway on our first power play and if we score that and a couple of those early goals stay out of our net who knows. But the bottom line is, we put ourselves in a hole and we couldn’t get out of it. It’s not like we came out and got 11 shots for the whole game; we just didn’t finish. Robert Morris was either that much better or that much more prepared tonight.”
In the final minute of the second, Glen received a major penalty and a game misconduct for contact to the head at 19:26. As the third period started, the Colonials could not do much of anything with the opportunity. A barrage of good Penn State penalty killing, mixed in with some unforced Colonials offsides plays and a few icings, spelled disaster. Then with four seconds left in the power play, freshman forward Matt Cope buried a rebound from teammate Zac Lynch’s shot past Skoff to put the Robert Morris lead at five. The game then got more chippy with every shift, with altercations happening after a good many puck freezes.
Colonials defenseman Tyler Hinds closed out the scoring at 15:52 of the third when he sent a one-timer from Scott Jacklin past Skoff for his second goal of the year.
The win extended the Colonials unbeaten streak to six games and propelled them to the championship game Saturday night, when they take on Miami, while Penn State will face Ohio State for the first time in its history in the consolation game at 4:30 p.m.