ROCHESTER, N.Y. — After playing RIT to two straight ties, Plattsburgh triumphed over the Tigers 1-0 in the mini-game, advancing the Cardinals into the NCAA Division III Frozen Four to defend their 2001 NCAA championship.
“To get back to the Final Four, we had to climb a lot of mountains this season,” said Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery.
The first nine minutes of the mini-game were all Plattsburgh, as the Cardinals were able to keep steady pressure in the RIT zone, and finally converted to take a 1-0 lead.
At 8:38, Mark Coletta flipped the puck past RIT netminder Tyler Euverman for the Plattsburgh goal. RIT had several chances to clear the puck out of its defensive zone, but was unable to clear. Rob Retter dug the puck out from the boards behind the Tiger net, and got the puck on to Coletta’s stick just to the right of Euverman. Coletta lifted it over Euverman’s blocker for the score.
“Retter made a great pass,” said Coletta. “Coach stressed crashing to the net all week, and it paid off.”
Fatigue took its toll on players from both teams as the mini-game progressed.
“We had a couple of injuries to our forwards, and the guys didn’t have enough oomph at the end to get it done,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson.
“We took advantage of their fatigue in the mini-game,” agreed Plattsburgh defender Jeff Marshall.
Following the Cardinal goal, RIT put pressure on the Plattsburgh net and goaltender Niklas Sundberg. As time wound down, Plattsburgh did a great job of dumping the puck deep into the RIT zone to take precious seconds away from RIT.
“I thought we took over the game territorially,” said Emery.
The Tigers pulled their goalie with 1:07 remaining on the clock, but the Cardinals held off the RIT pressure for the win.
The mini-game was necessitated by the series’ second straight draw. Four of the five periods in the series ended in ties, and the first game ended in a tie. So it was only fitting that the second game would end regulation in a tie as well.
The overtime period was played at a slower pace than last night’s overtime, as both teams started to run out of gas. Each team had a couple of high quality chances, the most dramatic one just as the last second of overtime ran out, when Plattsburgh rang a wrist shot off the outside of the post, and the game ended tied 2-2.
The third period had been tightly played early on. Each team got chances to score, but the goaltenders shut everything down.
RIT broke the tie that had existed since late in the first period, 11:39 into the third. David Bagley started the play for RIT, passing to Mike Tarantino breaking out of the Tiger zone. Tarantino streaked up the left side of the ice, carrying the puck deep into the Cardinal zone on a 2-on-1 break. He wound the puck around a diving Cardinal defender to find Sam Hill at the far side of the slot. Hill one-timed the puck past Sundberg for the goal.
Plattsburgh poured on the pressure after the RIT goal, desperately trying to tie the game. Jeff Marshall did just that at the 17:22 mark on a strong individual play. Marshall collected the puck along the right boards, muscled his way past an RIT player, and steered the puck around a sprawling Euverman to tie the game 2-2.
“The puck came out to the point,” said Marshall. “We were down, so I had to take a chance to get to the net. A couple of moves came into my mind, but I just went to the net.”
Stellar goaltending was the soup du jour in the second period. Euverman made several big saves midway through the period to keep the game knotted, particularly during a Plattsburgh power play. The majority of the Cardinal’s scoring opportunities during the period came off rushes through the neutral zone and carrying the puck towards the RIT net.
Not to be outdone, Sundberg lived up to his “Swedish Wall” reputation, stoning RIT’s 11 shots during the second stanza as well. RIT got its best chances by forechecking deep in the corners, and popping the puck out into the slot.
The opening minutes of the first period were marred by a rash of whistles for icings and offsides. Each team seemed a little jittery as they vied for the Frozen Four bid.
RIT scored first 5:16 into the period to gain its first lead of the series. Jerry Galway passed across the slot to Brian Wilkins, who was pinching in from the point. Wilkins wristed the puck high, past Sundberg’s glove and into the corner of the net.
The Tigers carried the momentum from the goal for the next few minutes and held a distinct territorial advantage in play. But RIT couldn’t take advantage of the pressure to build its lead further.
Plattsburgh turned the tables on RIT around the thirteen minute mark of the period, carrying play deep into the Tiger zone. The pressure was so severe that all RIT could do for three minutes was ice the puck.
The pressure finally paid dividends for the Cardinals at the 18:52 mark of the first with a power-play goal. Brendon Hodge sent a blast from the point towards the RIT net. The puck hit the leg of an RIT defenseman and ricocheted into the top corner of the net for the goal.