College hockey made its way to the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the CONSOL Energy Center, for the third time in last two years for the second annual Three Rivers Classic. Just like last year’s Classic, Penn State kick-started the holiday tournament against in-state rival Robert Morris Colonials in their first game of the tournament, but this time taking their opening game 3-2 on the shoulders of two third period goals.
The victory snapped the Nittany Lions’ six-game losing streak and they will now take on college hockey powerhouse, No.7 Boston College, in the championship game on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. for the Confluence Cup.
Just like in their previous matchup earlier in the season on Nov. 1, the special teams play was the difference maker. Penn State finished the night 2-for-5 on the power play after going 3-for-7 with the man advantage in the November matchup. The Nittany Lions also set a season high 62 shots on goal, one shy of their previous record of 63 against American International in their inaugural Division I game last season.
With a dominant powerplay that came into the game clicking at 21.7 percent, the best of the four participating teams, Robert Morris was able to cash in on a Taylor Holstrom hooking penalty early in the second period on their third powerplay opportunity of the game. Cody Wydo, who scored all four of Robert Morris’ goals in the team’s previous matchup, was able to win the faceoff cleanly to the right of Matt Skoff straight back to Tyson Wilson at the point to set up the redshirt sophomore’s first goal of the season.
Just when Robert Morris goalie Terry Shafer seemed to be getting into a groove after shoveling aside the first 32 shots thrown his way, Nate Jensen’s shot from the point tied things up 1-1 at the 8:58 mark in the second with a feed from David Glen along the boards. It was the second year alternate captains’ second goal of the season and his first since the Pegula Ice Arena opener on Oct. 11 against Army.
Late in the second, an Evan Moore shot from the point hit Brandon Denham in front and he was able to find David Friedmann right on the doorstep to the left of Skoff to give Robert Morris the 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission. Despite the one goal deficit heading into the third period, the Nittany Lions were able to throw a whopping 27 shots on goal at Shafer; a new program record.
Continuing the trend of power play success against Robert Morris, the captain himself Tommy Olczyk was able to collect his first career power play goal and fourth of the season on a follow-up shot of his own over the shoulder of Shafer.
“It’s nice to see that our power play is working on different fronts,” said Gadowsky. “I don’t know if it’s because we are showing different looks. To be honest with you it’s a little bit like putting. Sometimes you do the exact same thing and they’re dropping and sometimes they don’t go in. This year so far we’ve been getting good looks and they’ve been going in and I hope it continues.”
But just when it seemed like the game would trickle into overtime, a Taylor Holstrom shot on a 2-on-1 opportunity was blocked by Robert Morris defenseman John Rey and bounced right to the stick of Eric Scheid for his team-leading eighth goal of the season.
“Couldn’t have asked for a more gift-wrapped goal,” Scheid said about his game winning goal.
“I think we played a very good game,” said Penn State Head Coach Guy Gadowsky. “When you play a good hockey game you sort of load the dice in your favor and I thought we did that. I thought we did a lot of things right. I think we had a lot of chances. When you play good hockey it seems bounces go your way.”
In game one of the Three Rivers Classic, Boston College defeated Bowling Green 5-0. 2012 Hobey Baker finalist and one of college hockey’s best players Johnny Gaudreau added a goal and two assists. The Eagles are without top defensemen Ian McCoshen and Steven Santini plus freshman goalie Thatcher Demko to Team USA in the World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.