After three fruitless months to open the season, Robert Morris returns to Consol Energy Center tonight to defend its Three Rivers Classic crown.
The Colonials (2-10-2, 2-5-2 Atlantic Hockey) will play host to Penn State (3-9-1, 0-2-0 Big 10) at 7:35 p.m. in the opening round of the holiday tournament.
The winner will advance to the championship game Saturday night to face the winner of the other first-round matchup between No. 7 Boston College (10-4-2, 6-1-1 Hockey East) and Bowling Green (8-8-4, 6-6-2 WCHA). The consolation game is slated for 4:35 p.m. Saturday.
Robert Morris won the inaugural Three Rivers Classic last December by beating the Nittany Lions, 6-0, and upsetting then-No. 5 Miami, 1-0, in the title game.
"It was great for the city of Pittsburgh," Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said Thursday. "It really brought college hockey to the forefront, especially at the time when there was a lockout [in the NHL] last year, it got some people excited about hockey.
"The tournament was well-run and very well-attended, and it brought some excitement for hockey into Pittsburgh at a time when they needed it."
Both Robert Morris and Penn State are coming off lengthy holiday breaks and also forgettable first halves of their seasons. The Nittany Lions have lost six consecutive games; the Colonials are winless in their past three.
Robert Morris battled Mercyhurst to a 5-5 tie Dec. 14 in the Colonials previous game.
"We played extremely hard," Schooley said. "Our work ethic and our intensity and our battle level were very high. We went into a place where they'd only lost twice and fought it out and played the No. 1 team in our league to a back-and-forth tie. We can build on this."
This is the fourth meeting between the Colonials and Penn State. The Nittany Lions prevailed, 5-4, Nov. 1. Junior forward Cody Wydo had all four Robert Morris goals in the loss, tying a single-game program record.
Boston College, under longtime head coach Jerry York, is the headliner of the tournament. Winners of five national championships, the Eagles opened this season ranked No. 4 in the country.
Bowling Green, with one national title, is the alma mater of Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coach Todd Reirden.
"To bring the history and passion and alumni following of the Boston College and Bowling Green to the area is very exciting for our program and university," Schooley said.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.