Three Rivers Classic
PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, Dec. 29-30
Semifinals: Arizona State (4-10-4) vs. Providence (10-7-1, 6-4-1 Hockey East), 4:30 p.m. Friday. Lake Superior State (4-12-4, 3-8-3 WCHA) vs. Robert Morris (7-11-1, 7-7-1 Atlantic Hockey), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Consolation/Championship: 4:30 p.m./7:30 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: Tyler Busch, F (6-5-11); Brett Gruber F(4-9-13); Jakob Stridsberg, D (5-2-7); Joey Daccord, G (4-9-4, 3.25 GAA, .911 sv%)
Notable: The Sun Devils are in their third season of NCAA play, and this year marks the first time they have played an exclusively Division I schedule. Arizona State opened the season 2-8-2 but is 2-2-2 in its last six games. The Sun Devils have struggled to score goals so far this season, ranked 57th in both goals scored (2.11 GPG) and power play (10.45%). Arizona State will play in back-to-back tournaments, hosting the Ice Vegas Invitational on Jan. 5-6.
Lake Superior State
Players to watch: J.T. Henke, F (6-15-21); Max Humitz, F (8-6-14); Diego Cuglietta, F (5-7-12); Anthony Nellis, F (7-4-11)
Notable: The Lakers have a had a December to forget with a 1-4-1 record this month, and that one tie even felt like a loss after Michigan Tech claimed the extra WCHA point in a shootout. Finding consistency has been the biggest issue for Lake Superior State, and there have been maddening stretches where the offense simply refuses to show up, including back-to-back shutout losses earlier this month. How that happens with the likes of J.T. Henke and Max Humitz, who combined have an average of a goal per game, is somewhat baffling. The goaltending has been suspect this year, with both Nick Kossoff and Mareks Mittens failing to grab the starting role.
Players to watch: Erik Foley, F (10-11-21), Brian Pinho, F (6-7-13), Hayden Hawkey, G (10-7-0, 2.61 GAA, .906 sv. %)
Notable: Not a lot of teams already have in-season tournament experience, but Providence is one of them having traveled to Belfast for the Friendship Four, where they fell to Clarkson in the championship game. The Friars were ranked in every USCHO.com poll in the first half, yet never put together a winning streak longer than two games. The team recently welcomed a new player, but also parted with two. Pens fans will get to check out Friars forward Kasper Bjorkqvist, taken by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2016 NHL draft. Providence’s last tournament championship is also the program’s most memorable one: the 2015 Frozen Four where the Friars won their first national title.
Players to watch: Brady Ferguson, F (10-13-23); Luke Lynch, F (11-8-19); Michael Louria, F (9-13-22); Francis Marotte, G (7-7-1, 2.87 GAA, .909 sv%)
Notable: The host Colonials have won three of the previous five Three Rivers Classic tournaments, including the last two. Robert Morris finished the first semester with a sweep of Mercyhurst, ending a four-game skid, the longest losing streak for RMU since 2008-2009. Ferguson got off to a slow start by his standards, but has 11 points in his last five games, including seven last weekend. Louria, a transfer from Massachusetts, has been a major point contributor so far, third on the team in goals (nine) and tied for first in assists (13). RMU has already played at PPG Paints Arena this season, losing 5-2 to Penn State on Dec. 8.
This will be the first Three Rivers Classic appearance for Lake Superior State, Arizona State and Providence. On paper, this is one of the weakest fields in the six-year history of the tournament, with the No. 11 Friars the only ranked team and the rest under .500. It’s the first time that just one ranked team has been in the tournament since 2013.
All four squads are looking to jump start the 2018 portion of their schedules. Lake Superior State hasn’t won since Dec. 2, while Arizona State and Robert Morris look to build off some recent momentum. Providence is coming off a weird series where it handled Rochester Institute of Technology easily in the first game, 8-3, but was stunned 4-0 by the Tigers the following evening.
The Friars have to be considered the favorites, but Robert Morris has sent the home crowd home happy with title wins in 2012, 2015 and 2016, knocking off a ranked team each time.