PITTSBURGH - After escaping with what Derek Schooley called a "rope-a-dope" 3-2 win against Penn State just two weeks ago, many around Robert Morris expected another physical, tight game as the two teams met in the opener of the inaugural Three Rivers Classic.
Instead, Robert Morris delivered a knockout blow. Andrew Blazek scored 1:49 into the game and Robert Morris never looked back, thrashing Penn State 6-0 to move on to the championship game of the tournament.
"For the first game back, you score six goals and get a 6-0 win, you have to be happy about it," Schooley said.
Thanks to Blazek, the line of Adam Brace, Cody Wydo, and David Friedmann, and a sterling performance from netminder Eric Levine, Penn State was never in the game. Blazek's goal stood up for 15 minutes until a flurry of Robert Morris goals ended the net for Penn State goaltender P.J. Musico.
"I thought we were great from the red line in," Schooley said. "Defensively, we have some things we can tighten up, but when we made mistakes, Eric was there to bail us out. He had probably a half dozen big saves."
The biggest might have come with 9:25 remaining in the first as Robert Morris tried to protect a 1-0 lead. Levine stoned Max Gardiner on a breakaway to preserve the lead, and Robert Morris began its offensive onslaught a few minutes later.
Wydo, Brace, and Friedmann did all of the damage. Wydo said Friedmann had bounced back and forth with Scott Jacklin in centering the line recently, but Schooley put Friedmann with the two prolific wingers Friday night. The combo was on the ice for all four of Robert Morris' first period goals.
Brace scored an unassisted goal with a nifty move that freed him up to wrist the puck past Musico with 3:27 left in the period. Just 28 seconds later, Wydo jammed in a Friedmann pass to make it 3-0. And a scant 2:21 after that, Wydo scored again in front of the net.
The sophomore credited the rush for his two goals, especially the his second one.
"I was actually the fourth man in there," he said. "I came in late and the puck came right to me again. Right place, right time."
With a new goaltender, Penn State tried to crawl back in the game in the second period, outshooting Robert Morris 14-4.
"I never felt comfortable," Schooley said. "The way they came out in the second period, that's the way they took it to us in the first period at Penn State. We were back on our heels."
But Levine stood tall. The senior goaltender, among the nation's leaders in save percentage, ultimately turned away all 48 shots he faced.
"They may have had 48 shots, but that's a little deceptive. Not too many shots came from high risk areas. We kept it to the outside," Levine said. "It's nice when these guys put the puck in the net early on. But, it doesn't really change the way you play. You still have to focus on the next shot."
Robert Morris finished the scoring when freshman Matt Cope scored his first career goal earlier in the third period. Tyler Hinds added one more to cap the night for the Colonials.
"This is the first time I had a chance to play here and it's an unbelievable rink. It's cool to put yourself in that position in an NHL caliber rink. It's good we got the win and we're at where we want, 7:30 (tomorrow) night," Levine said.
It also puts Robert Morris in position to play a higher intensity game with something more than movement in the standings or a few points on the line.
"We're excited to play for a championship trophy. We've said it before, we have two championships we want to win, three if you count Atlantic Hockey, and this is the first one," Levine said. "It's good to get a taste of a little bit of pressure and stakes that we're going to have to get used to play at."
- Robert Morris will play No. 5 Miami in the championship game. The Redhawks beat CCHA rival Ohio State 1-0, setting up the first meeting between Miami and Robert Morris since the 2009-2010 season. That year, Miami came into town ranked No. 1 but lost 3-1 to RMU in the College Hockey Showcase. Two days later, Robert Morris completed the sweep in Oxford, Ohio with a 2-1 win.
"I hold (Penguins broadcaster) Paul Steigerwald accountable," Schooley said of memories of the sweep. "(Thursday) night at the banquet, he reminded Miami that we swept them four years ago. I'd hoped they'd forgotten that by now, and he had to bring that up so it's back fresh in their minds."
Ohio State and Penn State will play in the consolation game at 4:30.
- Penn State freshman David Glen was issued a game-misconduct for leveling Colonials defenseman Andrew Blazek late in the second period. Glen, the Nittany Lions' leading scorer, was penalized for a hit to the head.
- Attendance for Day 1 was 11,663, shattering the Robert Morris attendance record for games downtown. The previous high was 6,957, set in December 2010 against RIT as part of the Winter Classic week.
- Penn State goalie Matthew Skoff came on in relief and stopped 18-of-20 shots. Skoff and forwards George Saad and Michael Longo are Pittsburgh area natives and made their return trips to the region. Forward Tommy Olczyk, son of former Penguins player/coach/broadcaster Eddie Olczyk spent much of his youth in Pittsburgh
- Ohio State had a face familiar to NHL fans and Pittsburghers behind the bench. R.J. Umberger, a Plum native, Ohio State grad and current Columbus Blue Jackets forward, is serving as a volunteer assistant coach during the NHL lockout.
- Miami was without Washington, Pa. native Riley Barber and Sean Kuraly. Both are playing for team USA in the World Junior Hockey Championships in Russia.
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com.