ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Plattsburgh (29-5) defeated RIT (27-1-1) with a dominating, emotional performance to beat previously-undefeated RIT and win the 2001 NCAA Division III National Championship.
“We had a lot of problems during the season. This may not have been the most talented team I’ve ever had, but they have the most heart,” said Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery.
“Just an unbelievable year, but the fairy tale didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson.
The difference in emotion was obviously early, with the Cardinals’ starters jumping up and down during the introductions, while the Tigers, on the other hand, were all business.
That emotion helped the Cardinals gain the territorial advantage for the first ten minutes of the period, and the pressure paid off for Plattsburgh.
Against Wisconsin-River Falls in the semifinal game Friday night, RIT scored three goals in the first eight minutes of the game. Saturday, Plattsburgh turned the tables on RIT, scoring twice in the same span.
“Our biggest fear going in to the game was RIT coming out like they did last night,” said Emery. “We just wanted to weather the first five minutes.”
Rob Retter took a pass from linemate Chad Kemp just inside the Tiger blue line and tucked the puck in to the upper right corner of the Tiger net. The goal was scored at the 5:57 mark, and kept Plattburgh flying.
Less than two minutes later, the Cardinals scored again, Kemp setting up that goal also. He passed out of the corner to Mark Coletta, parked squarely in the Tiger slot. Coletta one-timed the puck past RIT netminder Tyler Euverman at 7:33 to put Plattsburgh up 2-0.
“The worst thing all night was that they [Plattsburgh] got out to a two-goal lead,” said RIT senior Peter Bournazakis.
After an almost perfect ten minutes of game-plan hockey, the Cardinals made a costly mistake. Peter Ollari got tagged with a holding penalty, and the dangerous RIT power play stepped on the ice.
The Tigers didn’t blow the opportunity, and scored the extra-man goal at 13:10. Jerry Galway put a shot on net from the high slot, and the rebound jumped right out to Derek Hahn waiting to the left of the net. Hahn flipped the puck past Plattsburgh netminder Niklas Sundberg for the goal.
This power play goal turned the territorial war around 180 degrees. All of the sudden it was RIT putting all the pressure on the Plattsburgh net for the next few minutes, but the Tigers couldn’t convert. As the period waned, play evened out and each team was getting first-rate chances.
RIT continued to have trouble setting up in the Plattsburgh zone during the first half of the second period. The Cardinals were able to clear the puck quickly each rush up the ice by the Tiger forwards.
“Plattsburgh was extremely sharp and did a lot of things that win hockey games,” said Wilson.
Plattburgh retook its two-goal lead 5:30 in to the period. Brendon Hodge, from the left faceoff dot, turned and released a quick shot that elluded Euverman for the goal.
The Cardinals didn’t send much of a forecheck in to contest the RIT break out passes as the second period continued. Instead, the Cardinals parked all five skaters in neutral ice, and clogged up the passing lanes as the Tigers carried the puck up ice.
Plattsburgh built an almost insurmountable three goal lead with only 17 seconds left in the period with a power play goal. Retter wristed a shot from the right faceoff dot that it appeared Euverman saved. However the puck trickled behind Euverman and across the goal line for the score to give Plattsburgh a 4-1 lead.
It looked like RIT had chipped away at the Cardinal lead as Mike Bournazakis pushed the puck in to the net. But the goal was scored just a split second after time in the period expired, and Plattsburgh skated into the second intermission with its 4-1 lead intact.
RIT came out with more pressure in the third period, outshooting the Cardinals 18-7 in the extra stanza. But Sundberg came up with huge saves in net time after time for Plattsburgh.
“They came out flying in the third, but the Swedish Wall [Sundberg] was right there,” said Emery. Sundberg saved 35 of the 37 shots that he faced in the game.
The Cardinals’ Brent Armstrong notched a goal at 8:32, followed just nine seconds later by a Tiger goal by Mike Tarantino, and Plattsburgh maintained its three-goal lead.
As RIT continued to press more and more offensively, Plattsburgh garnered a couple of odd-man rushes. Brendan Hodge converted on one of these at 15:07 for the Cardinals’ sixth goal, and the game ended with the 6-2 score.
“We split with Plattsburgh — that’s the bottom line. We just lost the wrong one,” said Wilson.
Added, Tiger senior Jonathan Day added, “It’s emotional. We’ll think about it all tonight, all day tomorrow, and maybe all spring.”