The third-annual Three Rivers Classic collegiate hockey tournament takes center ice at CONSOL Energy Center today with Colgate, Robert Morris, Penn State and Western Michigan all seeking a first-place finish in one of the nation’s premier college hockey tournaments.
One of the top storylines heading into the tournament is how evenly matched the level of competition is this year. Three clubs are nationally ranked (Colgate-17, RMU-19, Penn State-20), making each matchup a must win for every team involved.
RMU (11-2-3) has had one its best starts in program history going 7-0-2 before suffering their first loss of the season. The Colonials’ head coach, Derek Schooley, is excited for the challenge awaiting his players as they play in their third-straight 3RC.
“It’s always great to play outside your league and play against some different opponents and play some teams that you don’t see on a regular basis,” Schooley said. “So it’s a great opportunity for us to get a chance to play some very high level teams. These are all very good hockey-playing schools. It’ll be exciting for us and for our university.”
Schooley has been behind the Colonials bench since the organization’s inception in 2004. He also coached the team to a first place finish over nationally-ranked Miami (Ohio) Redhawks in the inaugural 3RC back in 2012.
Western Michigan (6-8-2) hasn’t nearly been having the same early season success as the other three teams, however, that doesn’t worry Broncos head coach Andy Murray. While they open up against a ranked Colgate team this afternoon at 4:30 p.m., Murray expects his team will be ready for the Raiders since his team is used to playing against tough competition in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. NCHC competition for the Broncos includes Denver, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Miami of Ohio.
“(Colgate) is a hard working team. They’re very quick,” Murray said. “We play in the NCHC, which is arguably the best league in college hockey, so we’re used to playing tough opponents every single game, so playing a team like Colgate is much like playing teams in our own league.”
Murray is currently in his third year as the team’s head coach. Before his tenure with the Broncos, Murray was an NHL bench boss for the Los Angeles Kings from 1999 to 2006 and for the St. Louis Blues from 2006 to 2010.
Don Vaughan will be adjacent to Murray on the opposite bench when his Colgate Raiders (9-6-1) play the Broncos in both schools’ first-ever 3RC meeting. Vaughan can’t get it out of his head how impressive each team in this tournament has been this year.
“When you put a tournament together like this a year or two in advance, you’re never quite sure what the fields going to be like,” Vaughan said. “Obviously this year, with three top-20 teams in the field and a really good Western Michigan team, I don’t think it could be much better.”
The Penn State Nittany Lions (9-4-2) coach, Guy Gadowsky, agrees with Vaughan on how great of a field it is and believes it will be a tough test.
“We’re happy with where we are this year, but we want to keep improving and this certainly is a great field, so it’s going to be a tough test for us and we’re happy to be here and see if we can keep improving,” Gadowsky said.
Gadowsky backed the Nittany Lions in both of the first two 3RC appearances. Last year, the team made it to the championship game only to be routed by the Boston College Eagles, 8-2. While he hopes to bring home the title this year, Gadowsky reiterated how eager he and his team were to face RMU, their fellow Pennsylvania collegiate hockey organization, in the first round at 7:30 p.m.
“I think it’s great for Pennsylvania hockey,” Gadowsky said about the matchup. “Robert Morris is doing a tremendous job. They’re having a lot of success and the more success they have, they bring more visibility to Pennsylvania hockey and that’s something we benefit from as well. To have two teams that are playing pretty well in the same state, I think is pretty exciting.”