College Hockey Returns to Pittsburgh: Previewing the Three Rivers Classic

It's not the Frozen Four, but college hockey returns to the CONSOL Energy Center Dec. 27 and 28 with the Three Rivers Classic - Justin K. Aller

College hockey returns to the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh eight months after the Frozen Four was in the Steel City.

It's hard to imagine, even without three players who are off in Sweden participating in the World Junior Championship, that Boston College isn't the prohibitive favorite to win the 2013 Three Rivers Classic, but this tournament went anything but chalk last season.

Host Robert Morris shut out Penn State and Miami en route to capturing the tournament title in the first year. The Colonials are off to a slow start, but Derek Schooley's team will be upset-minded when it takes on in-state rival Penn State in the second semifinal on Friday.

Boston College and Bowling Green will square off in the first semifinal in a matchup of Jerry York's current team vs. his former team that he led to NCAA glory in 1984.

Boston College will be without freshmen defensemen Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen and freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko who are all representing the red, white and blue at the World Junior Championship. Boston College might be a little shorthanded on defense, but the Eagles have plenty of weapons in their arsenal upfront led by junior Johnny Gaudreau and senior Kevin Hayes.

Gaudreau, a returning Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist, is second in the national scoring race behind only St. Lawrence senior Greg Carey. The Carneys Point, NJ native has 13 goals and 15 assists in 16 games played. Hayes and fellow senior Bill Arnold aren't far behind.

Two freshmen forwards, Austin Cangelosi and Ryan Fitzgerald, are also very skilled and could be a treat for the local fans. Fitzgerald has Pittsburgh ties through his father Tom who played for the Penguins during his more than decade-long NHL career and now serves as the Assistant GM to Ray Shero. The younger Fitzgerald, a Boston Bruins selection, was one of the last three players cut by USA Hockey for the World Juniors.

Sophomore Michael Matheson, a first round draft pick of the Florida Panthers, is the big gun defensively for the Eagles. Freshman Scott Savage, a very talented rookie, will see more action than usual with the absence of Santini and McCoshen.

Junior Brian Billett will get the start in net both nights, barring an injury. The Brunswick, Maine native has played well at times, but has struggled some in his first full season seeing a bulk of the action. He was tremendous in his last outing against New Hampshire, stopping 39 of the 41 shots he faced.

Bowling Green comes into the tournament at 500, both overall and in the newly formed WCHA. Head coach Chris Bergeron is in his fourth season behind the bench after coming over from Miami where he was an assistant to Enrico Blasi.

Senior Bryce Williamson and sophomore Mark Cooper each have eight goals for the Falcons while sophomore blue liner Ralfs Freibergs has 13 assists. Sophomore Tommy Burke is the likely starter between the pipes in the semifinal against BC.

Robert Morris junior Cody Wydo might be the best player most fans haven't heard of. The Allen Park, Mich. native found the back of the twine 21 times last winter and is on pace for even more goals this year. The former North American Hockey League star has 12 goals in 14 games, good for second most goals per game nationally.

Penn State, in just its second season of NCAA action and first in the newly formed Big 10, enters the tournament on a six-game losing streak. The Nittany Lions haven't won a game since Nov. 8 against Sacred Heart.

Sophomore Eric Scheid is the team's leading scorer with seven goals and four assists. Hockey fans will recognize the name of sophomore forward Tommy Olczyk who is the son of legendary Chicago Blackhawks player and commentator Eddie Olczyk.

Guy Gadowsky's team has four NHL Draft selections on its roster, including freshman goaltender Eamon McAdam and a pair of defensemen, Patrick Koudys and Mike Williamson. Junior forward Max Gardner, a transfer from Minnesota, is also a prospect of the St. Louis Blues.

The city of Pittsburgh was a great host for the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four and the CONSOL Energy Center is one of the most beautiful venues in all of the sport. Tickets can still be purchased on Ticketmaster and at the venue box office, for both dates.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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