By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (7-8-0) will close out 2012 at the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Dec. 28-29. The Nittany Lions will tangle with Robert Morris (7-4-2) in the first round at the CONSOL Energy Center.
The two-round tournament that also features No. 5 Miami (11-3-4) and Ohio State (7-6-5) will be played at the CONSOL Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The tournament is especially meaningful for freshman goaltender Matthew Skoff (McKees Rocks, Pa.), who grew up in the Pittsburgh area. After a three-year stint with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League, Skoff is excited to play in his hometown.
"It's going to be a pretty cool experience being from Pittsburgh," Skoff said. "I played hockey away from home the past three years, so it is a bit of homecoming for me. Playing in the CONSOL Energy Center, home of my favorite team growing up (Pittsburgh Penguins), is pretty exciting."
Skoff said he celebrated a traditional Christmas with his family and enjoyed spending time with loved ones he hasn't seen in a while. He also used time to reflect on the first 15 games of the season.
"It's a good step in just reflecting on what the team has done so far," Skoff said. "We look at what we can keep consistently doing well, what we like and what we can improve on throughout the rest season."
One key characteristic of the Nittany Lions in their inaugural season has been resiliency and hard work.
"We have surprised a lot of people with the games we've been in and the teams we have competed with," Skoff said. "I'm proud of the guys for being a very good bounce-back team. We can improve on that, instead of being a bounce-back team we can be more consistent at playing our game all the time and dictating the flow."
Despite a 3-6-0 record, Skoff has played well for Penn State between the pipes. He has started nine games and dawns a 2.32 goals against average with a .926 save percentage. Skoff registered his first win against Buffalo State on Nov. 3 and his first shutout against Fredonia State on Dec. 11. He has shown signs of being a top-shelf collegiate goaltender with his endurance and poise in net.
Skoff said that playing a 60-game schedule in the USHL last year prepared him for the wearisome college hockey schedule. The holiday break was an opportunity to rest mentally after a busy semester in the classroom and on the ice.
Now, Skoff prepares to play in front of his friends and family in Pittsburgh against a Robert Morris team that defeated Penn State, 3-2, back on Dec. 15. This will be the first time playing in the three-year-old CONSOL Energy Center for the Pittsburgh native. He played in the previous home of the Penguins, Mellon Arena, in high school.
"I'm looking forward to playing in front of Pittsburgh fans and other Penn State alumni," Skoff said. "I'm excited to see what it's like to play in front of Pittsburgh fans. I know my mom, dad, aunts and uncles will all be there, so it will be a lot of fun."
Although there is a lot of excitement surrounding his homecoming, Skoff knows that there is still a job to do.
"It isn't all about me," he said. "We have two winnable games and we have to take care of business. It'll be a good experience not only for me but for Penn State hockey, in general."