NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — “Now that was one hell of a game.”
After the initial shock of the ending between RIT (3-0) and Manhattanville (3-1) subsided, that was the reaction echoing through the stands. Manhattanville tried to hold on to a one-goal lead late in the game, but RIT managed to tie the score with 1:28 remaining on the clock, and then score the game-winner with only four ticks left to take away a 5-4 win.
“RIT is a very experienced, veteran, classy team,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “And that is what carried them through in the end.”
And what a thrilling end it was.
Manhattanville was a little jittery from the opening faceoff. “I think this game might be a little bigger for us than them,” said Levinthal. “And our guys came out a bit too nervous.”
The Tigers took advantage of the Valiant jitters early, scoring 1:02 into the contest. Sam Hill fought through a series of checks at the point, and fed the puck across the slot to Mike Tarantino, who tapped the puck in from a tight angle for the RIT goal.
Manhattanville quickly collected itself, settled down around four minutes into the contest and played toe-to-toe with RIT for the rest of the game.
The Valiants also changed from playing their classic physical style to a skating-and-passing game. “It’s easy to hit when that’s all you have,” said Levinthal. “But we have some guys who can play the skill game now, and it’s a new part of the game for us.”
The Valiants tied the score 6:33 into the second period. Ray Williams collected a rebound just to the right of the crease, and skated around behind the Tiger net to gain control of the bouncing puck. Williams was able to skate out around the far side of the net and sent a backhand into knot the score 1-1.
Midway through the second period, the game suddenly transformed from a goaltender duel to a shootout for just over a minute. Tarantino notched a goal for RIT at the 10:43 mark, taking advantage of the Manhattanville defense running around in its own zone.
Right off the ensuing faceoff, the Tigers scored again. Michael Tucciarone skated into the Valiant zone and got off a quick wrist shot that eluded Valiant netminder Jon Peczka to give RIT a 3-1 lead at 10:55.
But Manhattanville showed a level of resiliency missing from previous Valiant teams. Just a minute after the RIT flurry, Wade Richardson collected a rebound to pull Manhattanville back within one.
And after almost two complete periods of penalty-free hockey, the referees started to call infractions.
“The game was very physical, very hard,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “But it wasn’t dirty at all. Both teams just played hard hockey and didn’t let things get out of control.”
RIT got into penalty trouble early in the third period, and Manhattanville was quick to take advantage of the situation. Eleven seconds into a 5-on-3 power play, Valiant Ray Williams passed to Dave Schmalenberg down low to the right of the RIT net. And Schmalenberg one-timed the puck into tie the score 3-3.
Manhattanville scored on the second half of the power play as well to take the lead. This time it was Schmalenberg passing out of the corner to John Auxier standing just outside the crease. Auxier buried the shot to give Manhattanville the 4-3 lead.
The Valiants played well with the lead, but RIT continued to mount more and more pressure as the minutes wound down. “It was good that we went down when we did,” said Wilson. “It gave us time to regroup.”
Manhattanville got caught with too many men on the ice with 1:43 remaining in the third period, and RIT took advantage. Jerry Galway ripped a shot from the point that sailed wide of the net, but it bounced off the back boards out the other side, and Sam Hill was there to backhand the puck into the net to tie the score.
The goal crushed Manhattanville, which had almost pulled off the upset. But the spirit had drained out of the Valiants.
RIT freshman Jason Chafe scored the game-winner off a 3-on-2 break with only four seconds remaining to give RIT the 5-4 victory.