The Penn State men’s hockey team has checked off quite a few accomplishments and milestones over the past few seasons, but there is one that has eluded the team.
The Nittany Lions have yet to win a tournament title in Pittsburgh.
In three previous trips to the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Penn State has just a 2-4 record at CONSOL Energy Center, only making the tournament finals once.
The Nittany Lions are back in the Three Rivers Classic once again, and with the momentum they have been riding this season, as one of the nation’s hottest teams, they are seeking to take care of another missing mark on their ledger.
No. 14 Penn State (11-2-3) faces cross-state rival Robert Morris (9-4-3) once again in the annual tournament. Clarkson and No. 8 Massachusetts-Lowell battle in the first game of the day at 4:30 p.m. Monday. The winners and losers will meet Tuesday.
In the first season of Division I action in 2012, Penn State lost to the Colonials before upending Ohio State in the consolation game. The next year brought a win over Robert Morris before Boston College rolled to a huge win in the championship, and last season Penn State dropped both contests in the Steel City.
The Nittany Lions head into the games on a roll unlike one the program has ever had before, riding a nine-game unbeaten streak. During the run they have outscored opponents 38-14.
Monday’s game figures to be an offensive showcase. Penn State enters the week averaging 4.38 goals per game, which is tied for second in the nation. Who is the team tied with? Robert Morris.
Both teams have scored 70 goals, and both are pretty prolific in shot-taking. The Lions average a Division I-best 44.88 attempts per game, while the Colonials are not far behind at 36.25 per contest. Robert Morris (35.4 percent) and Penn State (30.4 percent) also stand 1-2 in the nation in power play conversions.
“I think when you get into a game like that, it’s less of a chess match and more who executes better,” Penn State Director of Hockey Operations Billy Downey said two weeks ago before the team took time off for the holidays. “Obviously if you have (similar) styles, at the end of the day it’s going to be who’s going to play better, and goaltending plays a big part of it as well.”
The game also provides a homecoming for a pair of Nittany Lions, among the seven Pennsylvania natives on the roster. Freshman forward Matt Mendelson is from Upper St. Clair, and goalie Matthew Skoff hails from McKees Rocks.
Skoff, who skated with the Penguins in a training camp last summer, figures to get the start Tuesday with the team’s alternating goalie schedule used all season. Eamon McAdam will likely start Monday. Assuming Skoff takes the ice this week, it would mark his final college start in the city.
Skoff and McAdam help give Penn State the better defense between the teams. The Nittany Lions have allowed 37 goals, or 2.31 per game, while the Colonials have surrendered 43 goals, and 2.69 per night.
The two games, which will be the final two non-conference contests of the season, also mark the halfway mark of the regular season, with the final 18 outings all in the Big Ten.
Who: No. 14 Penn State (11-2-3) vs. Robert Morris (9-4-3)
What: Three Rivers Classic
Where: CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Next: Penn State vs. No. 8 UMass-Lowell or Clarkson, 4:30 or 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Radio: WRSC-FM 103.1