The Robert Morris Colonials won their second Three Rivers Classic in four years at CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday night with a thrilling 5-3 comeback victory over the UMass-Lowell River Hawks.
“That was fun,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley joked after the win.
Robert Morris found themselves down 3-1 in the second period after UMass-Lowell scored two goals in less than three minutes.
“It was eerily similar to (the 6-1 loss to Colgate University) last year in this tournament,” Schooley said. “We scored the first goal. We had a really good start and then the wheels just fell off the bus. We had a choice. Were the wheels going to fall off the bus or were we going to right the ship?”
It was Shaler native Zac Lynch who chose the latter just 22 seconds after UMass-Lowell scored their third goal of the game. Lynch roofed a goal-line pass from Greg Gibson to start the Colonials’ comeback.
“You would expect us to get down in that situation,” said Lynch, who was named Tournament MVP. “We kind of looked at it like last year. We got down to Colgate in the same situation and they just kept it to us. It was weird. We jumped right up and tried to take it to (UMass-Lowell) and we got to our game like Coach said.”
Tied 3-3 after two periods, Brandon Denham found himself in a very familiar situation.
At the inaugural Three Rivers Classic in 2012, Robert Morris and Miami University were tied 0-0 in the third period. Denham scored the lone goal and eventual game-winner to give the Colonials the first ever Three Rivers Classic title.
Exactly three years later, Denham found himself in front of the net after River Hawks forward Ryan McGrath went off for tripping, putting the Colonials on the power play.
“Every time we’re on the power play I’m just trying to be in front of the net,” Denham said. “I won’t say I was expecting to get that chance. I was just hoping it would come to somebody on our team. Luckily enough we were able to get that opportunity and put it home and get a lead there.”
With 2:18 left in the game and UMass-Lowell buzzing, River Hawks forward Adam Chapie turned the puck over to Lynch. The hometown hero wasted no time burying the puck to give the Colonials a 5-3 lead.
It was a poetic comeback sequence for RMU, and Schooley credits the maturity of his players for the victory.
“Hats off to our guys for battling,” Schooley said. “You saw some maturity from our group. We battled to get it back to 3-3 and then we had one period for the win. Brandon gets our power-play goal, (two) game-winners in the Three Rivers Classic title game for our team, and then we get the one to seal it.”
Even though UMass-Lowell couldn’t hang on and win the championship, the team had a great time playing in their first Three Rivers Classic.
“It was a really fun experience,” captain Michael Kapla said. “Great building. Great city. I think we all had a good time.”
The consolation game in particular, a 5-1 victory for the Penn State Nittany Lions over the Clarkson Golden Knights, highlighted homegrown talent and hockey’s future alike.
Penn State’s win started with their backbone in goal: McKees Rocks native Matthew Scoff.
“This is my last game in Pittsburgh as a Nittany Lion,” Scoff said. “To go out with a win in that fashion feels pretty good.”
Scoff had the opportunity to participate in Pittsburgh’s prospect development camp last summer, and he cited his time spent with current Penguins goaltender Matt Murray as a big influence for his attitude on and off the ice.
“Working with Matt Murray, he’s obviously having a ton of success with the Penguins right now,” Scoff said. “Just seeing how he goes throughout his day as a pro, just trying to be like a sponge watching him – how he treats practices and workouts and stuff like that – I think that definitely helped.”
Clarkson forward and Penguins prospect Troy Josephs, the Penguins’ seventh-round draft choice in 2013, scored the lone goal against Scoff and the Golden Knights’ only goal of the tournament.
“It was a great feeling,” said Josephs, who was named to the All Three Rivers Classic Team. “(CONSOL Energy Center) is an unbelievable environment, an unbelievable place to be and hopefully a future home for me.”
It was also Clarkson’s first appearance in the tournament. Even though Josephs has had a taste of CONSOL Energy Center participating the last three Penguins development camps, it was still a memorable experience.
“It was first class,” Josephs said. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less, of course. Pittsburgh always does it right. Can’t say anything but good things about it.”
2015 Three Rivers Classic Champions: Robert Morris
2015 Three Rivers Classic Tournament MVP: Robert Morris Forward Zac Lynch
2014 All Three Rivers Classic Team:
Robert Morris: Goalie Terry Shafer, Forward Zac Lynch
UMass-Lowell: Defenseman Michael Kapla, Forward Adam Chapie
Penn State: Defenseman Luke Juha
Clarkson: Forward Troy Josephs