ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It was absolute pandemonium in the closing seconds of the game between Elmira and RIT.
The Tigers had climbed back from a 3-1 deficit entering the third period, to knot the game midway through the third. It looked like the two teams were headed for overtime to decide the ECAC West regular season title. But Sam Hill scored a goal with only two seconds left in the game to give RIT the 4-3 victory, and clinch the regular season title.
The home crowd erupted, as did all of the RIT players on the bench and on the ice, while the Elmira players stood in stunned disbelief.
In the closing seconds, the puck was deep in the Elmira zone. Mike Tarantino threw the puck out from the corner towards the crease with four seconds remaining. Sam Hill was able to get a stick on the puck and deflect it in to the net for the game winning goal.
“It shows that you have to play 60 minutes of hockey,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “We played 59:58 of nearly flawless hockey, and yet came out on the short end.”
Elmira indeed played flawless hockey for at least the first 45 minutes of the game. The Soaring Eagles had an answer for everything RIT threw at them, and put three pucks past RIT netminder Tyler Euverman to build a 3-1 lead.
Elmira captain Steve Kaye played a stellar game for Elmira. He was all over the ice, both in the offensive zone and the defensive zone, making plays for the Soaring Eagles.
“Kaye plays like that every night,” said Ceglarski. “He is the heart and soul of our team, and is one of the best players in the ECAC West without a doubt.”
But RIT found some chinks in the armor of Elmira midway through the third period and came storming back to tie the game. Jason Chafe scored the Tigers’ second goal at the 8:19 mark, while on the power play. Chafe skated along the endline deep in the Elmira zone, and wristed the puck towards the net. It hit something on front of the Soaring Eagle net, and snuck by Rob Ligas for the goal.
“We needed something to give us a spark, and Chafe’s goal was exactly what we needed,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson.
Elmira made its first major mistake of the game midway through the third period. The teams were skating 4-on-4, and all four Soaring Eagle players got sucked over towards the boards in their own zone. This freed up Ryan Fairbarn and Lanner Fayad down the middle of the slot. The puck squirted out and Fairbarn sent a slow shot down the slot. Fayad got his stick on the puck and redirected it through Ligas’ legs for the Tigers’ third goal to tie the game 3-3.
RIT tied the score, 1-1, just 20 seconds in to the second period. Co-captain Jerry Galway sent a slapshot from the point through a crowd on to the Elmira net. Soaring Eagle goaltender Rob Ligas made the save, but Tiger Lanner Fayad was there to collect the rebound and steer it around the down Ligas for the goal.
“I was happy with our second period,” said Wilson. “But we still got outscored 2-1.”
Like Elmira was able to most of the night, the Soaring Eagles had a quick answer to RIT’s fortune. Seventeen seconds after RIT’s goal, Lawne Snyder was able to keep a Tiger clearing pass in at the top of the slot. He passed to Pierre Rivard, who quickly put a shot on net. Tiger netminder Tyler Euverman made the save, but Adam Godfrey was there to collect the rebound and put the puck home to reestablish the Elmira lead.
“That goal was very important at the time,” said Celgarski. “It was a great answer [to RIT's goal] and showed that the guys didn’t panic.”
The strong Elmira forecheck paid dividends again midway through the second period. A giveaway along the boards in the Tiger zone quickly got converted into a Soaring Eagle goal by Dean Jackson 10:53 in to the period. Elmira closed off the second period with a 3-1 lead.
Elmira was all over RIT early in the first period, taking the play deep in to the Tiger zone repeatedly and getting several great chances on net. Elmira clanged the puck off the crossbar just a minute into the game, which might have actually gone in the net, but was waved off by the referee.
An RIT penalty three and a half minutes into the period gave Elmira even more momentum. RIT was able to weather the Soaring Eagle storm for 12 minutes before finally succumbing.
Elmira forced an RIT turnover in the corner deep in the Tiger zone. Ryan Baker was able to chip the puck into the net high from a very tight angle to get Elmira on the board with the 1-0 lead.
The Elmira goal seemed to get the jitters out of the Tiger players, and they were able to mount significant pressure throughout the remainder of the opening period. RIT dinged a shot off the crossbar at 12:50, and pinged another off the post just over a minute later, but the Tigers couldn’t solve Ligas.