PITTSBURGH – Robert Morris won the inaugural Three Rivers Classic last year with terrific goaltending and just enough scoring. The Colonials came close to repeating that formula Friday night against Penn State at Consol Energy Center, but the Nittany Lions had an answer.
Penn State’s Eric Scheid scored the game-winning goal with 1:40 left in the game, taking advantage of a favorable bounce to advance the Lions to Saturday’s championship game against No. 7 Boston College.
The two teams appeared headed for overtime before Taylor Holstrom carried the puck into the zone and got off a quick shot from the slot. RMU defenseman Tyson Wilson blocked it, but the puck bounced directly to Scheid at the right dot for an easy finish past confused goalie Terry Shafer.
“You couldn’t ask for a more gift-wrapped goal,” Scheid said. “I was just thinking, ‘Don’t miss.'”
Penn State (4-9-1) had a program-record 27 shots in the second period en route to a remarkable 62 in the game, but entered the third period trailing 2-1 after RMU’s David Friedman deposited a loose puck in the closing moments of the second. After a rare PSU breakdown, Brandon Denham’s attempted shot floated to Friedman at the side of the net.
Lions junior captain Tommy Olcyzk knotted the game 2-2 when he roofed a point-blank forehand at 9:14 of the third, Penn State’s second power-play goal of the night. Several minutes later, the Nittany Lions got the bit of luck they hoped was coming.
“We deserved that bounce, especially after their [second] goal was on a broken play,” Scheid said. “It was tough to watch that from the bench, but we got a nice break.”
One year after Colonials netminder Eric Levine denied 99 shots in a pair of Three Rivers Classic wins over Penn State and Miami, Shafer turned in the program’s latest superb goaltending performance in this event. The sophomore from New York made a school-record 59 saves, leaving coach Derek Schooley at a loss for words after the game.
“I just gave [Shafer] a hug,” Schooley said. “I told him before the game that we needed a goalie to step up and maybe steal one, but you need some help to do that. [Shafer] was an ‘A-plus’ tonight, but the rest of the team was an ‘F.'”
The scoreless first period featured entertaining up-and-down action, with Penn State leading 19-10 in shots. Two minutes into the second, Robert Morris’ Wilson hammered a power-play slap shot past Lions goalie Matt Skoff to break the ice.
Penn State blueliner Nate Jensen tied it on the power play with 11:02 left in the period, as it looked like Penn State was ready to break out. The Lions’ 62-shot total was one shy of the program record, evidence for coach Guy Gadowsky that his team carried over its strong play from prior to the semester break.
“That was our best game of the year,” Gadowsky said. “It was the consistent game we’ve been looking for.”
Schooley gave plenty of credit to Penn State, although he saw the one-sided nature of the game as an indictment of his Colonials’ commitment.
“It’s so tight in college hockey,” he said. “If you don’t show up you’re gonna get beat. The second period took a big toll on us because we didn’t want to advance the puck behind their defense and [Penn State] did. We didn’t win any battles and we turned the puck over. We were tired in the third because of that.”
The shot attempts heavily favored Penn State, as the Lions recorded 108 to RMU’s 44. The victors also had the edge on the power play, going 2 for 5. PSU entered the game with a 21.2 conversion rate on the man advantage, the second-best mark in the Big Ten and 21st overall in D-I.
“I think it’s a lot like putting [in golf],” Gadowsky said. “We’ve tried some different looks and different sets, but sometimes you get different results from the same procedure. The power play’s been good all year.”
Skoff, a sophomore McKees Rocks native, said he battled distraction as he watched his team control the play for most of the night in front of 8,533 hockey fans.
“I just kept telling myself we were going to score,” Skoff said. “Tried to keep the negative thoughts out and just reiterated over and over again that we were going to get one.”
Penn State did, and now the Lions will have a chance at a signature win against a nationally-ranked opponent at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Robert Morris will face Bowling Green in the 4:30 p.m. consolation game.
Stay tuned to City of Champions for more live coverage of the Three Rivers Classic.