Even When Pens Aren't Playing, There's Good Hockey to Be Found In Pittsburgh
PPG Paints Arena hosts a number of exciting hockey teams this month, and none of them play in the NHL.
Photos by Jason Cohn
They play for the national championship rather than the Stanley Cup as undergraduates, and nobody playing at that level will ever be accepted as the quote-unquote “best player in the world” by proclamation.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give college hockey a try.
If you haven’t previously, now’s your chance.
Robert Morris and No. 18 Penn State will invade PPG Paints Arena on Friday night, the first game of a home-and home series that will continue on Saturday night at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena.
Considering Robert Morris didn’t begin playing at the NCAA Division I level until 2004-05 and Penn State revived its long-dormant program in 2012-13, that’s a pretty good rivalry on ice.
The Colonials will return to the home of the Penguins in late December. Robert Morris will take on Lake Superior in the Three Rivers Classic on Dec. 29 (Providence and Arizona State will meet in the other semifinal). The two first-night winners will battle for the Confluence Cup on Dec. 30 (a trophy Robert Morris has captured and proudly celebrated in 2012, 2015 and 2016).
If your attraction to hockey begins and ends with Sidney Crosby, chances are you couldn’t care less.
But if you’re a fan of the game to the extent that you can enjoy a game even when the Penguins aren’t playing in it, you might be pleasantly surprised, as well as thoroughly entertained.
“The NHL season is a marathon, a college hockey season is a sprint,” Colonials head coach Derek Schooley offered. “We play 34 regular-season games. We practice four days a week and play twice a weekend. The energy and enthusiasm is heightened every time you play.
“If you like a hard-hitting, fast-paced, energy- and skill-based game, then college hockey is for you.”
There are also pep bands.
That still might not be enough to get your attention, but the NHL has noticed.
A record 314 former college players appeared in the NHL in 2016-17, an all-time high 32 percent of the league (up from 21 percent in 2003).
The Penguins have long been an organization that appreciates what a player that spends more time practicing and in the weight room as an amateur, relatively speaking, can ultimately achieve as a professional.
Their current roster includes former college guys Chad Ruhwedel (UMass-Lowell), Justin Schultz (Wisconsin), Brian Dumoulin (Boston College), Riley Sheahan (Notre Dame), Bryan Rust (Notre Dame), Matt Hunwick (Michigan), Ian Cole (Notre Dame), Carter Rowney (North Dakota), Conor Sheary (Massachusetts), Josh Archibald (Nebraska-Omaha), Carl Hagelin (Michigan), Phil Kessel (Minnesota) and Casey DeSmith (New Hampshire).
Head coach Mike Sullivan (Boston University) also once wore a letterman’s jacket on campus, as did assistant coach Jacques Martin (St. Lawrence) and goaltending coach Mike Buckley (Massachusetts).
Still not impressed?
Maybe a good local angle will provide the necessary nudge toward college pucks.
There are plenty of those to choose from. Luke Lynch (Shaler), Alex Dagnal (Peters Township) and Jake Coleman (Moon Township) of Robert Morris are all area products. Penn State’s Nikita Pavlychev is a 2015 seventh-round draft pick of the Penguins. And Providence assistant coach Kris Mayotte is a former goaltender at Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic High School, to name three.
PPG Paints Arena will also be hosting the Frozen Four in 2021.
You probably knew that already if you can recall Pittsburgh’s initial hosting of the event that decides college hockey’s national championship back in 2013.
The NCAA thinks Pittsburgh is a pretty good college hockey town.
Now is as good a time as any for Pittsburgh to return the favor.