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Pens Well Represented at 2017 NCAA Men's Tournament

Penn State makes its first-ever appearance in the 'Big Dance'

by Pittsburgh Penguins @Penguins / Media Release

For any Penguins fan whose appetite for hockey isn't quite fulfilled with three games in the next four nights beginning with tonight's visit to Ottawa, we have just the solution for you.

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA Men's Division I College Hockey Tournament begins, with a total of 12 games on tap for the opening weekend. The Penguins will have a big presence, as six of the team's prospects are slated to participate.

Additionally, Penn State University will be making its first-ever appearance in the 'Big Dance', having won the Big Ten tournament in dramatic fashion last weekend.

College hockey has helped keep the depth within the Pittsburgh Penguins organization well stocked, with 16 of the 30 players on the current roster (active roster and injured players) having spent time at the collegiate level. Thirteen of the 16 spent at least three years in school, and the group averaged 3.1 years as a whole. 

All sixteen teams will by vying for spots in the 2017 Frozen Four, which will be held in Chicago April 6-8.

This link gives fans a look at the complete bracket, and below is information on each of the Penguins' prospects participating. All games are available on the WatchESPN app in addition to the television info provided in the linked bracket.

The first matchup involving a Pens' prospect will be Friday at 4 PM when No. 4 seed Providence battles top-seeded Harvard. Kasper Bjorkqvist, Pittsburgh's second-round (61st overall) pick in 2016, will suit up for the Providence Friars. The Finnish-born forward has nine points (3G-6A) in 29 games as a freshman, and was an alternate captain for Finland at the World Junior Championship.

Later Friday night, 2015 sixth-round (167th overall) pick Freddie Tiffels and second-seeded Western Michigan meet No. 3 seed Air Force at 7:30 PM. A junior, Tiffels has produced seven goals and 19 points in 36 games this year.

Four prospects will be in action Saturday, with the 4:30 PM contest between Penn State, a No. 2 seed, and third-seeded Union College, the only opening-round matchup to feature Pens' prospects on both teams. 

In that tilt, Jeff Taylor, a senior defenseman from Union who was a seventh-round (203rd overall) pick in 2014, takes on a fellow seventh-rounder, Penn State's Nikita Pavlychev, a forward who was taken with the 197th pick in 2015. Taylor, who was recently named All-ECAC Second Team, has a career-best 33 points (9G-24A) and is plus-17. Pavlychev has posted a respectable 11 points (4G-7A) in 34 games as a freshman.

At noon, Anthony Angello, who skates for No 3-seed Cornell, leads his squad into action against No. 2 seed UMass-Lowell. Angello, a sophomore and a 2014 fifth-round (145th overall) selection, improved his goal-scoring total to 12 goals this year, and hit the 20-point mark for the second-straight year. He has 20 points (12G-8A) in 34 contests. 

Finally, at 1 PM, 2013 sixth-round (164th overall) pick, defenseman Dane Birks, and fourth-seeded Michigan Tech play the No. 1-overall seed in the tournament, the Denver Pioneers. Birks, a sophomore, has bettered his numbers from last year across the board, notching two goals, seven assists, nine points and a plus-14 in 41 games.

At the Frozen Four, Penguins prospect Zach Aston-Reese, a free agent signee on March 14 from Northeastern, will be hoping to capture the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top college player.

A reminder, Penguins fans can help Aston-Reese capture the award by logging on to www.hobeybaker.com to cast their votes through March 26. Fan voting will be combined with the votes of a 27-person Selection Committee to determine the final three finalists on March 30 at 6 PM ET on NHL Network. The winner of the award will be announced on April 7.

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