ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It may be cliched, but you expect thrilling finishes whenever RIT and Elmira play. And once again, it came down to a thrilling end as RIT defeated Elmira 2-1 to win the ECAC West championship Saturday.
“Just another typical Elmira-RIT game,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “When you have two of the top teams in the nation going at it, you get a thrilling game. It is unfortunate that one of the top five teams in the nation can’t go [to the NCAAs].”
RIT was desperately trying to hang on in the closing seconds of the contest. The Tigers led 2-1, but a penalty against Ryan Fairbarn with 26 seconds remaining, and a pulled Elmira goaltender gave the Soaring Eagles the 6-on-4 advantage.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Dean Jackson wristed a shot on the RIT net. Netminder Tyler Euverman stopped the puck, but it trickled towards the goal line. The last second ticked off the clock, the buzzer sounded, and then barely a second later the puck crossed the goal line.
The referee signaled a goal as the Elmira fans celebrated. However, after conferring with the assistant referees, who were watching the clock, it was determined that time had expired before the puck crossed, and RIT celebrated its victory.
“Two of the best teams in the country have had three of the best games in the country,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski.
Elmira narrowed the margin at the 11:24 mark of the third period. RIT had hit a crossbar in the Elmira zone just 13 seconds before, and couldn’t clear the resultant rush into the Tiger zone.
Mike Clarke held the puck in at the blue line for Elmira, and sent a wrister onto the Tiger net. Jason Cassells was there to collect the rebound, and finally swatted it past Euverman on his second attempt.
Elmira came out in the second period and carried play for most of the early portion. The frame holding the net remained Euverman’s best friend as Elmira dinged one off the crossbar early.
RIT extended its lead to 2-0 midway through the second stanza. Jason Chafe passed the puck across the low slot to tournament MVP Ryan Fairbarn, who was pinching in from the left point. Fairbarn one-timed the puck, and it barely trickled through Rob Ligas’ five-hole.
Just a minute after RIT scored its second goal, Mike Walling was given a major penalty for hitting from behind, and sent to the locker room with a game misconduct. Elmira mounted strong pressure on the RIT net during the ensuing power play.
“I really think the difference tonight was our penalty kill,” said Wilson. “Even the penalty kill came right down to the end. I think they got a little discouraged with our penalty killing.” RIT has now killed off 47 straight penalties.
The best chance for Elmira was by Dean Jackson midway through the power play. He had the puck on his stick skating across the top of the crease, and had Euverman down and out of the play on the far side of the net. But Jackson slid the puck wide of the net, and raised his stick above his head in frustration.
“Our power play has been struggling lately and tonight was no exception,” said Ceglarski.
RIT had jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead just 57 seconds into the game. The Tigers were able to set up on their first trip into the Elmira zone, and Fairbarn one-timed a weak clearing attempt towards the Elmira net that was blocked in the slot. Matt Moore pinched in from the right point, and put a fluttering shot through a crowd that eluded Ligas for the goal.
Elmira struggled to get the puck deep into the RIT zone early in the period. The Soaring Eagles were also unable to set the strong forecheck that had frustrated RIT in two previous meetings this season.
“We had plenty of chances to score in the first period,” said Ceglarski. “Their guys did a very good job of poking it past our guys in the neutral zone.”
The referee let the players play for the opening half of the first period. But once he started to make calls, the penalties flowed freely for about five minutes. RIT got tagged for three consecutive minors, providing Elmira with 1:45 of 5-on-3 advantage.
The Soaring Eagles took their time setting up the power play, and managed some good pressure on the RIT net. However, the best they could muster was dinging two posts about a minute apart.
Elmira started using its speed late in the first period, but it was RIT holding a slim 1-0 lead as the period came to a close.