Yale players had one of their own, junior center Jesse Root of Mt. Lebanon, to provide the 411 on Pittsburgh before the team arrived for this weekend's Frozen Four tournament.
Still, they were stunned when their bus emerged from the Fort Pitt Tunnel and the city's skyline and rivers suddenly splashed before them.
"Coming through that tunnel, I was very surprised to see that view," Bulldogs freshman center Carson Cooper said Friday, the day between the semifinals and the final against Quinnipiac at Consol Energy Center.
Yale senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm called Pittsburgh "picturesque."
Players from Quinnipiac and Yale reported good experiences in the city.
"We got to go see Heinz Field [Wednesday], which was great, especially for someone that loves football," Quinnipiac junior winger Jordan Samuels-Thomas said. "And coming here, the newest rink in the NHL, it's a beautiful facility."
That covered the hockey arena and the football stadium, but PNC Park wasn't left out.
"Some guys walked over to the Pirates stadium," said Quinnipiac senior center Jeremy Langlois.
Yale coach Keith Allain's first impressions of Pittsburgh came in the 1990s, when he spent four seasons as an assistant with the Washington Capitals.
The Penguins and Capitals met in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs three years in a row, beginning in 1994. Washington upset the Penguins in six games in 1994, but the Penguins won in seven games the next year and in six in 1996.
Asked about those series, Allain immediately brought up the Penguins' 3-2, four-overtime win in Game 4 in 1996.
"Back in Washington when Petr Nedved threw it over Olie Kolzig's shoulder," he said of the winner in the wee hours. "So I haven't forgotten too much about that."
He finds the city different now.
"Pittsburgh is hilly. It's got rivers. It's got some real character to its makeup," Allain said. "It seems to be more of a booming city now than it was then. It just seems a little bit more vibrant, a little bit more colorful to me now than it was back in the '90s."
And there is a new arena, replacing Civic Arena.
"I liked the Igloo, though," Allain said of the now-razed venue.
Which is better, Consol Energy Center or the Civic Arena?
"We'll see how it goes [tonight]," Allain said.
Spreading the love
In college hockey, retaining players who have a chance to turn pro ranks just behind recruiting in importance, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said.
"The way the NHL is set up right now with the [collective bargaining agreement] and everything, if those kids don't like their coach, they don't like the school, if you don't win, it's really easy to turn pro quickly," Pecknold said of college players who have been drafted or might make attractive free agents.
There was some thought after last season that Quinnipiac might lose forward Matthew Peca, who is a Tampa Bay draftee; defenseman Connor Jones, who was drafted by Edmonton; and Jones' twin, forward Kellen Jones.
"The second-most important thing we need to do as a head coach is make sure our kids love where they are, they love the program," Pecknold said. "That's why Connor, Kellen and Peca all came back. They love Quinnipiac. They love their teammates. They love the culture that we've created.
"They know we have a good thing going here, and they're going to be patient with their professional careers."
Pecknold has as good a record as possible in retaining players.
"We've had multiple players over the years offered [a chance] to leave early, and we've never had a kid leave," he said. "It's funny, we had a recruiting battle last year when two schools actually used that against us. They're like, 'Quinnipiac doesn't have kids sign early; can you come here and leave in two years?' "
It's not that he wants to hold his players back.
"If it [is] the right time to go, fine," he said. "If Tampa decides that Matthew Peca is ready, and we feel he's got a great opportunity, I'll drive him to the airport. I think Tampa's been good. They're patient. They know he needs to get bigger and stronger, and I'm hoping we get one more year out of him."
The Division I All-American teams were announced.
On the East first team are senior goaltender Eriz Hartzell of Quinnipiac, senior defenseman Nick Bailen of RPI, junior defenseman Chad Ruhwedel of Massachusettes Lowell, sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk of New Hampshire, senior forward Kyle Flanagan of St. Lawrence, sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau of Boston College and senior forward Steven Whitney of Boston College.
On the West first team are senior goaltender Brady Hjelle of Ohio State, junior defenseman Nick Jensen of St. Cloud State, freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba of Michigan, sophomore forward Austin Czarnik of Miami (Ohio), senior forward Danny Kristo of North Dakota and senior forward Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @pgshelly First Published April 13, 2013 4:00 AM