Editor’s Note: All opinions on RMU Sentry Media are the writer’s own.
PITTSBURGH — After the release of the 2019-20 schedule for the Robert Morris men’s hockey team, one major item seems to be missing; the Three Rivers Classic, which has been held every year since 2012. With the tournament seemingly being replaced with a game against Penn State on January 4th, it begs the question; “Is the Three Rivers Classic all that necessary?” I believe that it isn’t and that the high attendance markers caught on at the beginning of the tournaments’ history were due to the fact that Penn State and their very large and fanatic alumni base was drawing most of the crowd.
In a statement to RMU Sentry Media, a team spokesman said, “With the decline in attendance at the Three Rivers Classic in recent years, all of the partners involved have decided to take some time off from the tournament to evaluate future strategies for promoting college hockey in the region. For this year, we will focus on the single game at PPG Paints Arena that will be an exciting event for our student-athletes and our loyal fans.”
Signs for the demise of the Three Rivers Classic were showing last year, as for the first time, not all the games were held at PPG Paints Arena. The first round games were held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township, while the championship and consolation games were held at PPG Paints. Another sign can be seen in the attendance numbers, as last year, there were 1,500 in attendance on both Day 1 and Day 2 of the tournament; in comparison to the 2,126 in attendance on Day 2 of the tournament in 2017. Comparatively, Robert Morris averaged an attendance of 741 fans last year when games were held on Neville Island.
Where the removal of the Three Rivers Classic will not hurt the Colonials is in the strength of schedule, which according to the KRACH ratings determined by College Hockey News was no. 54 out of 60 teams in NCAA D-1 Hockey despite playing the no. 1 ranked St. Cloud State Huskies. Over the past few seasons, the Colonials have hosted many prestigious programs at the Three Rivers Classic, including the aforementioned St. Cloud State Huskies last year, the Boston College Eagles in 2013 and the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2011. The Colonials also played the Penn State Nittany Lions from 2012-2015.
When the Three Rivers Classic started, it was primarily held with semi-local colleges attending. The competing teams in the inaugural tournament were Robert Morris, Penn State, Miami (OH) and Ohio State. Whether due to the NHL lockout that took place that year, or the local competition, PPG Paints Arena (then called the CONSOL Energy Center) was nearly sold out. Compared to the less than 5,000 that attended the tournament last year, in 2012-13, a total crowd of over 20,000 was in attendance.
In the second annual Three Rivers Classic, when there was not an NHL lockout in effect, the tournament was still well attended, with over 16,000 fans coming over the span of the two days to watch Robert Morris, Boston College, Penn State and Bowling Green duke it out in downtown Pittsburgh. The tournament continued to bring in more than 10,000 fans until the 2016-17 season hit, in which Penn State decided not to attend. Around 6,000 fans went to watch Robert Morris host Boston College, Ferris State and Quinnipiac that year.
As I previously mentioned, most of the fans were supporting Penn State, and that can also be seen as recently as last year on Neville Island. On November 11, 2018, the Robert Morris Colonials hosted the then no. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions, and nearly 1,400 fans were in attendance at Colonials Arena. However, the very next week against Mercyhurst (from Erie), only around 600 fans were in attendance.
Penn State also averaged 5,801 fans per game last year; according to USCHO, which is seventh highest in the nation and more than the 5,782 capacity of Pegula Ice Arena.
All-in-all, the hiatus of the Three Rivers Classic will not have that large of an impact on the Colonials, and instead, they can look to playing in front of a possible sellout crowd on January 4th, as they host Penn State University at PPG Paints Arena.