ROCHESTER, N.Y. — On paper, the Elmira Soaring Eagles and the RIT Tigers are relatively even. Both teams have a significant number of freshmen and sophomores in the lineup. Elmira sports the more experienced goaltender with Greg Fargo, while the Tigers bring a more experienced defensive corps to the ice.
But sometimes, just sometimes, it is the intangibles that win a hockey game, and that was the story Friday.
RIT, after a stinging defeat at the hands of Elmira in last year’s ECAC West championship game, played with more desire, winning scrambles to pucks and diving in front of shots to prevent goals.
“In my five years here, that was the most complete game we have played,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “From the goaltending to the defense to the forwards, everyone played the system great.”
RIT added two goals in the third period to take a 4-0 victory over Elmira. The Tigers outshot Elmira 50-24.
“It’s hard to get out of your own zone and get sustained pressure when you’re not moving your legs,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “It came down to effort tonight, and we didn’t have it.”
The Tigers started the second period with the momentum after their late first-period goal. They continued to control play during the times of even strength.
Coincidental minors almost 11 minutes into the period put the teams 4-on-4. Elmira pressed and almost broke onto the scoreboard. Jarrett Konkle wristed a shot from the right faceoff circle that got behind George Eliopoulos. But goaltender got just enough of the puck to make it trickle wide as he looked helplessly over his shoulder.
With Elmira deep in the Tiger zone, RIT spring the puck free and skated up ice with a 2-on-1 breakaway. Darren Doherty carried the puck down the left side of the Soaring Eagle slot and took a shot that Fargo saved. However the rebound bounced back across the slot and linemate Brian Payant was there to one-time the puck for RIT’s second goal of the game at 12:47.
That goal seemed to take the air out of Elmira, as the Soaring Eagles started waiting for pucks to come to them, instead of charging forward. Even with two late power plays, Elmira couldn’t crack the scoreboard and the period ended with RIT up 2-0.
“It is hard not to get up for a game that is the best rivalry in division III,” said Ceglarski. “Our work ethic wasn’t very good at all tonight. My assistant coach Aaron Saul said it best after the second period. That’s not EC hockey or what we are used to playing. We have a lot of soul searching to do.”
The first period was played mostly in the Elmira end of the ice. RIT outshot the Soaring Eagles 16-8, and it showed in the play. The Tigers Brad Harris hit the crossbar on a scramble 15:30 into the period.
But it was senior Mike Walling that broke the scoreless tie with just 26 seconds remaining in the period. The puck squirted out from the side boards, laterally across the slot. Walling stepped into it, and just as he shot the crowd in front of the net part like the proverbially Red Sea and the puck shot underneath Fargo’s glove for the RIT goal.
Elmira’s best offensive chances of the first period came on the strong play of its special teams. During RIT’s first power play of the period, the Soaring Eagles took advantage of a misstep by an RIT defensemen to break into the Tiger zone 2-on-1. The initial shot took RIT netminder Eliopoulos out of position, and Justin Siebold thought he had an easy goal off the rebound. But Tiger Ryan Franke slid across the mouth of the net just in the nick of time to deflect the puck wide.
Elmira also had a great chance on its second power play of the period, but that chance went for naught also.
Matt Moore and Mike Tucciarone were the goal scorers for the Tigers in the final stanza. Both goals came as RIT crashed the net, with the fourth tally coming at the 11:42 mark.
As the game wound down, RIT worked better defensively and held on to the shutout for Eliopoulos, RIT’s first shutout in 65 meetings with Elmira.