UTICA, N.Y. — Utica scored two goals in a 37-second span early in the first period, then paced RIT to gain its first-ever win over the Tigers, 5-3, for an important milestone in the program’s three-year history.
“This game was a giant killer,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “At the beginning of the season, our goal was to split with the big three of the league. That goal was still alive coming into tonight’s game, because our remaining games against those three teams are all at home. Tonight was the first of those games.”
Utica controlled play early as RIT got a sniff at the Pioneer net, but nothing more as Utica pinned the puck deep in the Tiger zone.
The Pioneers controlled play by dominating the neutral zone, using the area between the blue lines to make crisp passes and break into the RIT zone.
“I knew that if we could get ugly along the boards, and control the two blue lines, then we would be there at the end of the game,” said Heenan.
Utica tallied goals on its second and third shots of the contest, both on breakaways, to gain an early 2-0 lead.
The first goal was scored by Brian Bansner, who caught a pass from Scott Leygraff just as he skated into the Tiger zone. Bansner avoided an RIT defenseman and slid a backhand past Tiger netminder George Eliopoulos for the score at the 5:05 mark.
Just :37 later, Utica broke in with another 2-on-1. Trent Flory and Justin Schachlter carried the puck in for the Pioneers, and Schachtler finished the play with the goal at 5:42.
“Their better players played better than our better players,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “They outworked us. They just beat us, and we stood around a lot.”
The Pioneers dominated through the middle of the first period, as RIT couldn’t get anything going. The Tigers finally mounted some offensive pressure, but another defensive breakdown allowed Utica to score its third goal.
Bansner hit Schachtler with a long breakout pass, and Schachtler finished the play wristing it past Eliopoulos’ glove for the goal at 14:11 of the period.
Right after the Utica goal, the first penalty of the game gave the Tigers a power play and a little life. Just as the power play ended, RIT scored when Roberto Orofiamma poked the puck past Utica goaltender Jake Miskovic at 16:39. The two teams skated off the ice for the first intermission with Utica enjoying a 3-1 lead.
Utica struck early in the second period, scoring a controversial goal at the 4:08 mark to regain its three-goal advantage. The sequence started with a scramble for a loose puck after a save. The puck started trickling towards the far corner of the goal line. Just as it neared the line, a pile of players scrambling for the puck pushed it across.
The red light went on, the referees held a convention, and the goal went up on the scoreboard to build the Utica lead to 4-1.
RIT answered the Pioneer goal to keep the game within reach, at 13:02. The puck rebounded off a blocked shot out to the top of the left faceoff circle. Tiger defender Ryan Francke stepped into the shot, and whistled it past Miskovic for RIT’s second goal, and narrowed the margin to 4-2.
Tempers flared at the buzzer, but the two teams were quickly separated.
The Tigers let their emotions get the better of them early in the third
period, taking six minor penalties in the first nine minutes.
Utica converted on one of the power plays, skating with the 4-on-3 advantage. Off a big scramble in front of the RIT net, Jon Ames corralled the loose puck and whipped it past Eliopoulos for his second goal of the game.
Late in the game, Utica got into penalty trouble of its own, with a pair of players sent to the box. RIT converted on the front end of the resulting 5-on-3, when Jason Chafe tapped home a long pass from Francke at 15:31 to narrow the score to 5-3.
Utica killed off the back end of the advantage to maintain its lead. RIT pulled its goalie with 1:04 remaining, and a late Utica penalty gave the Tigers a 6-on-4 advantage. But the Pioneers held on for the big victory.