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December 27, 2013

RMU hoping to get on track in 3 Rivers Classic

Andrew Blazek was wishing for a guitar this Christmas.

The Robert Morris defenseman began dabbling around with the instrument last year, and has since become quite intrigued with the art of strumming. While a tool to further his musical talents was high on his list, so is a second straight Confluence Cup.

Blazek and his teammates will begin to defend their title of reigning Three Rivers Classic champions this Friday and Saturday, as they welcome Penn State, Boston College and Bowling Green to the CONSOL Energy Center for the second annual holiday tournament. The Colonials will face the Nittany Lions on Friday, and depending on the results of said contest, battle either BC or BGSU on Saturday.

RMU heads into the weekend with just two victories overall on the campaign, and while it may look poor on paper, the Colonials stress that their record isn't necessarily indicative of their play. Eight of their 10 losses have come by two goals or less, and Robert Morris holds a respectable 2-5-2 record in conference play thus far.

For the redshirt senior and his squad, the 3RC, as the tournament is known, provides a chance to get the second half of their season off on the right foot. Or skate.

"I've defended our team against our record this entire season and I stick to that," Blazek said. "We need to make sure that we're capitalizing on the way we're playing. We've been focusing more on goal scoring in practice. That's something we've been working at lately and I think it's going to turn out well for us."

"We're looking more as not ending the year of 2013, we're looking at (the 3RC) as a kick start to the second half of the year and starting fresh," RMU head coach Derek Schooley said. "Anything can happen. Our goal is to go out there and put on two good performances. What happens, happens."

The Colonials more than proved that anything can happen in last year's inaugural tournament. The club trounced Penn State by a 6-0 final in their opening matchup, and then went on to defeat the No. 5 ranked team in the nation at the time, Miami of Ohio, 1-0 in the championship contest.

As was the case one year ago, the Nittany Lions are up first on the docket Friday evening. With only three meetings all-time, RMU-PSU has developed into a nice little rivalry. It's not Penguins-Flyers yet, but the Pennsylvania foes know how to entertain when sharing the same sheet of ice.

"We're not going to sneak up on (Penn State)," Schooley said. "We're sitting here talking about our record and I'm sure people are calling them about their record. It'll be two desperate teams that don't have a lot of wins between them, but are looking to start off the second half of the year on good notes."

"(Playing Penn State) definitely fires us up," Blazek said. I have a lot of friends that went to Penn State, so there's bragging rights involved. I've enjoyed every game we've played them just because it is a rivalry and it gets a little more intense."

If the Colonials are indeed fired up enough to best the Nittany Lions, they'll skate on Saturday night against the winner of Bowling Green-Boston College. No matter the result on Friday, RMU will have to face one of the two clubs 24 hours later. However, the bench boss and his team will talk about Saturday when the time is right.

"You don't worry about Saturday until Saturday morning," Schooley said. "We'll get a chance to watch Boston College and Bowling Green play before us (on Friday) and get a chance to see some of their tendencies. Our focus is to make sure we're playing in the late game on Saturday and we have to worry about Penn State first."

The goal is to skate with the trophy on Saturday evening, but for Robert Morris, putting on another successful event and raising college hockey awareness throughout Western Pa. is also high on the list. Schooley and the Colonials, as well as CONSOL Energy Center and the Pittsburgh Penguins, play integral parts in ensuring the 3RC is, and continues to be, a noteworthy tournament for years to come.

"'There's a lot of buzz in the hockey community," Schooley said. "We've got a very good lineup set. We have a chance to see Boston College, who has won three of the last six national championships. We haven't had this high level of a team come in, college hockey wise, to play in Pittsburgh. We're excited about the field and we'll put a good crowd in the stands for Friday and Saturday."

A Pittsburgh native, Blazek never seems to tire of skating in the building of his hometown Penguins.

"It never gets old," Blazek said. "I just went to a Penguins game and I was sitting in the stands thinking, 'this never gets old. I'm going to play here, this is unreal.'"

Capturing the championship in December of 2012 was undoubtedly the crown on the holiday season for Robert Morris. They'd like to add that tradition to their list for the foreseeable future as well.

"Magic can happen at that rink," Blazek said. "With the environment and with our fans, that definitely helps. I think that the guys have it within them to bring the championship back."

And by the way, Blazek received a guitar under the tree. Plus a ukulele. One wish down, one to go.

#3RC Notes:
- The second annual Three Rivers Classic takes place at the CONSOL Energy Center, Friday, December 27th & Saturday, December 28th.

- Boston College & Bowling Green face-off at 4:35 on Friday, while Robert Morris and Penn State get underway at 7:35 that evening.

- The consolation game in Saturday at 4:35, while Friday's victors meet in the championship contest at 7:35

- Tickets are available at the CONSOL Energy Center box office and all Ticketmaster locations.

Pittsburgh Proud:
- Current Colonials Colin South, Andrew Blazek, David Rigatti and Zac Lynch call Pittsburgh home.

- PSU goaltender Matthew Skoff hails from McKees Rocks, PA.

- Six former Boston College Eagles have skated for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.

- Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, and assistant coach Todd Reirden, played their college hockey at Bowling Green.

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